WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, in a 4-3 decision, New York’s highest court ruled that the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) must redraw the state’s congressional map before the 2024 elections.
New York’s highest court held that the IRC must reconvene and propose a new congressional map to the Legislature by the end of February. This case has been in the national spotlight as it could impact which party has control over the U.S. House of Representatives. Currently, the New York House Delegation consists of 15 Democrats and 10 Republicans (this number is down from 11 as of Dec. 1, the day former Rep. George Santos was expelled.) It is estimated that this decision could have the potential to flip as many as six Republican seats.
This decision stems from a lawsuit filed last year on behalf of voters arguing that the IRC failed to complete its mandatory redistricting duties when the commission deadlocked in January 2022. As a result, the Legislature, and not the IRC, passed a congressional map. The voters who filed the lawsuit asked the court to order the IRC’s members to “fulfill their constitutional duty” by submitting a congressional map to the Legislature.
The case is before the highest court after an appellate court over the summer ordered the IRC to reconvene, finding that the map-drawing process — as laid out in the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 — was not properly followed.
Between the 2010 and 2020 redistricting cycles, New Yorkers passed redistricting reforms.
During the 2010 redistricting process, the New York Legislature was responsible for map drawing. In 2014, New York residents approved a constitutional amendment to establish a 10-member independent redistricting commission composed of four Democratic legislative appointees, four Republican legislative appointees and two members without a party affiliation who draw the state’s Senate, Assembly and congressional maps.
The IRC’s voting rules are based on party control of the Legislature; with Democrats in the majority of both chambers, the maps for the 2020 redistricting cycle needed seven commission votes and the Legislature’s approval.
The rules of the IRC are such that if the Legislature votes down two consecutive map proposals, the Legislature then draws the maps. After the release of 2020 census data in April 2021, the commission could not reach a consensus on new maps so it presented two separate plans to the Legislature — one by Democratic members of the IRC and one by Republican members of the IRC — and the Legislature rejected both.
Rather than risk having the Democratic-controlled Legislature draw the maps if lawmakers rejected a second proposal, Republicans on the IRC stalled and refused to meet, according to the petitioners who brought the lawsuit.
The trial court dismissed the case, so the plaintiffs appealed to an intermediate court.
The petitioners asked a state trial court to issue a writ of mandamus (a court order compelling a specific action) directing the IRC and its members to fulfill the commission’s constitutional duty by submitting new map proposals that could be adopted immediately after the 2022 elections. The trial court dismissed the case in September 2022 and the petitioners appealed the court’s dismissal of the lawsuit to a state appellate court, which allowed the case to continue.
A New York appellate court ordered the IRC to reconvene.
In July of this year, the appellate court agreed with the petitioners, ruling that the IRC must redraw the state’s congressional map and submit the map to the Legislature. The July 13 order states that “[t]he IRC had an indisputable duty under the NY Constitution to submit a second set of maps upon the rejection of its first set…The language of NY Constitution…makes clear that this duty is mandatory, not discretionary. It is undisputed that the IRC failed to perform this duty.”
The order also called attention to the anti-democratic whims that can overtake the redistricting process: “The procedures governing the redistricting process, all too easily abused by those who would seek to minimize the voters’ voice and entrench themselves in the seats of power, must be guarded as jealously as the right to vote itself; in granting this petition, we return the matter to its constitutional design. Accordingly, we direct the IRC to commence its duties forthwith.”
After the appellate court ordered the IRC to reconvene, Republican intervenors and members of the IRC filed notices of appeal. As a result, the decision requiring the IRC to reconvene was automatically paused. The petitioners asked New York’s highest court to void the automatic pause but the court declined to do so.
Between the appellate court’s decision and today, the IRC has not reconvened to draw a new congressional map for 2024.
Today’s decision affirmed the appellate court’s decision.
The opinion, authored by Chief Judge Rowan Wilson, orders the IRC to reconvene and perform its mandatory duty.
“In 2014, the voters of New York amended our Constitution to provide that legislative districts be drawn by an Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC). The Constitution demands that process, not districts drawn by courts. Nevertheless, the IRC failed to discharge its constitutional duty. That dereliction is undisputed. The Appellate Division concluded that the IRC can be compelled to reconvene to fulfill that duty; we agree. There is no reason the Constitution should be disregarded,” the opinion reads.
The court ordered the IRC to submit a new congressional map to the Legislature by Feb. 28, 2024.