The New York Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, tossed out the congressional map redrawn to give Democrats advantage. The dim, uphill, and banana-peel-strewn path Democrats tread to retain the House of Representatives now features barbed wire, thorn bushes, and a few rapid strays.
Democrats unwittingly placed some of those banana peels and planted some of those thorn bushes a long time ago.
“In 2014, the People of the State of New York amended the State Constitution to adopt historic reforms of the redistricting process by requiring, in a carefully structured process, the creation of electoral maps by an Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) and by declaring unconstitutional certain undemocratic practices such as partisan and racial gerrymandering,” the opening sentence of the decision reads. “No one disputes that this year, during the first redistricting cycle to follow adoption of the 2014 amendments, the IRC and the legislature failed to follow the procedure commanded by the State Constitution.”
Eight years ago, politicians, including then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, posed as good-government reformers in ceding control of the process from the inherently political Legislature to an ostensibly independent commission devoid of such unclean impulses as partisanship. Back then, just seven Democrats in the 213-member state assembly, and 20 in the 63-person state Senate, voted against placing the measure on the ballot, where New Yorkers ultimately favored it 58 percent to 42 percent.
The boomerang effect recalls the strict sexual-harassment laws signed by Andrew Cuomo that ultimately undid his governorship. The supposedly high-minded reforms to curtail gerrymandering blew up the subsequent partisan scheme — perfectly legal prior to the 2014 law — of Democrat officeholders.
The brazenness with which the politicians ignored that law offended not just Republicans. Andrew Cuomo nominated six of the judges on the Appeals Court and Kathy Hochul one. Democratic appointees comprise the entirety of the high court that invalidated the redrawn map by a 4-3 margin.
The court ordered a special master to assist it to “adopt constitutional maps with all due haste.”
New York lost one seat in reapportionment. California, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania also lost a seat. Montana, Florida, Oregon, Colorado, and North Carolina each gained a seat from reapportionment, and Texas added two. Notice something? The states gaining population generally went for Trump, and the states losing (in a relative sense) population generally went for Biden.
It gets worse for the party in power. Democrats control just 37 of 99 state legislative chambers. Further limitations on their ability to influence the redistricting process came from laws like New York’s, which at least pay homage to taking the partisanship out of the process. Just two of the 11 states with a commission or legislature-commission hybrid model voted for Trump in 2020. State courts can overturn redistricting that offends local law. But the Constitution gives states the power to redistrict in a manner of their choosing, so the states with no such restrictions face little in the way of legitimate legal objections to their maps. After all, Elbridge Gerry, the man who lent his name to the controversial practice, signed the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and attended the Constitutional Convention. One can dislike gerrymandering. One cannot credibly label it unconstitutional or contrary to the intent of the Founding Fathers.
But in New York, where Democrats dreamed of buttressing their power in Washington despite political headwinds, Cuomo hangover (Cuomover), and the loss of a congressional seat, the prohibition on gerrymandering inserted into the state constitution makes the proposed congressional map illegal.
“Under the rejected map,” Roll Call points out, “President Joe Biden would have won 22 of the state’s 26 congressional districts in 2020, up from 20 of 27 under the lines that were in place then. With Republicans only five seats shy of controlling the House, experts said redistricting could help tip the balance in this fall’s elections.”
Whereas Joe Biden won 74 percent of the districts prior to the gerrymandering, he won 85 percent of the districts in the redrawn map. Implementing these redrawn districts meant the 19-to-8 advantage Democrats currently hold in New York’s U.S. House delegation likely approached something like 22 to 4.
Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, whose district encompassing all of Staten Island and part of Brooklyn received a peculiar add-on from the Brooklyn neighborhood near where her likely Democratic opponent lives, had earlier lamented that “if they can’t win by the rules, they’ll change the rules.” On Wednesday she celebrated, “The will of the people prevailed over the Corrupt Albany Machine in a tremendous victory for democracy, fair elections & the Constitution!”
A victory for the New York Constitution, surely. But under the U.S. Constitution, the shenanigans attempted by Empire State Democrats passes muster.
Pass the mustard. The drama captivates more as November encroaches.