A judge throws constituency lines in New York City, citing the Democrats’ “prejudice”

A New York State judge ruled on Thursday that the Democrats unconstitutionally drew new congressional districts for guerrilla advantage, and he blocked their use in this year’s election, potentially creating confusion in intertemporal rivalry.

In a general ruling, Judge Patrick F. McAllister of the State Supreme Court said the Democrats who control Albany had laid the line for guerrilla advantage in Congress in breach of the new constitutional ban on guerrilla gerrymandering adopted by New York voters.

Judge McAllister, a Republican from rural Steuben County, accused the Democrats of adopting a tactic they condemned the Republicans for in order to create a map that gave them an advantage in 22 of 26 New York places. He called such gerrymandering a “plague” of democracy.

“The court finds, on the basis of clear evidence and beyond reasonable doubt, that the map of Congress was drawn unconstitutional with political bias,” he wrote in the opinion.

The judge also kicked out new Senate and State Assembly constituencies, which he said were the product of an irrevocably tainted mapping process. He ordered Democrats to come up with new “both-party backed maps” by April 11.

If they fail, Judge McAllister said he would appoint an independent special master to draw them, raising the possibility that candidates already participating in the campaign could be put on hold for several weeks and the primaries scheduled for June could be delayed.

The ruling Democrats believe will be overturned on appeal was the latest setback for their party in what has become a high-stakes national redistribution struggle that could help determine which party controls the House of Representatives next year.

Last week, a judge in Maryland ruled that constituency lines that would give Democrats an advantage in at least seven of the eight districts were “extreme gerrymander” and gave lawmakers just a few days to test the new setup. Just days earlier, the US Supreme Court had rejected the Wisconsin legislative map that would create a new majority black neighborhood. And now it seems the new Ohio House map, which favors a lot of Republicans, will be in effect in 2022, despite a state court ruling that it is a guerrilla gerrymander.

Democrats see New York as perhaps the party’s best opportunity to use its united control over the big blue state to reverse several seats in Congress in an attempt to stop the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in November this year.

A ruling in New York was made on the same day a Florida federal judge ruled that parts of the one-year-old Republican electoral law were unconstitutional and racially motivated. A judge in North Carolina has also already ruled against maps where Republican-led legislatures drew lines that clearly favored their party’s candidates.

For New Yorkers, the politically charged saga of redistribution, captured in Thursday’s ruling, is what they hoped to avoid when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2014 to largely convey the mapping process to a cross-party external commission such as that used by some other states.

The commission started work for the first time last year with great promise. But instead of removing bias from the process, as many had hoped, it got bogged down in it: this winter, Democratic and Republican members failed to agree a single set of maps that they could formally recommend for ratification to state legislators in Albany.

This gave the Democrats – who for the first time in decades control the governorship and the super majority in both the State Senate and the Assembly – more or less freedom to draw maps of their choice.

In February, they approved new positions in Congress that could threaten up to four current Republicans in the House of Representatives, a bigger change than any other state, by shifting lines to Long Island, New York, and upstate. The State Senate map promised similar democratic benefits.

Judge McAllister questioned the trial, saying that democratic lawmakers were successful in trying to amend the state constitution and overthrow voters by unilaterally drawing maps after the commission surrendered. He stipulated that any exchange must be approved by a cross-party majority despite democratic control in the capital, otherwise the courts would step in to fix the boundaries.

Judge McAllister did not expressly conclude that the maps of the State Senate or Assembly were unconstitutional gerrymanders. However, it agreed with the applicants that congress maps violated the language in a 2014 amendment saying that districts “should not be attracted to discourage competition” or willfully favor or harm a particular candidate or political party.

“Gerrymandering discrimination hurts everyone because it tends to silence minority votes,” Judge McAllister wrote. “When we choose to ignore the benefits of compromise, we not only hurt others but also ourselves.”

In court, Democrats insisted that the changes were not only constitutional, but a natural outcome in a state where right-wing rural areas were losing populations rapidly and Democrat-friendly urban areas were growing. On Thursday, they said they were confident higher courts would respect the legislature and overturn Judge McAllister’s ruling.

In a joint statement, Governor Kathy Hochul and Letitia James, the state’s attorney general, said they would immediately appeal the ruling.

“This is one step in the process,” said Michael Murphy, a Democrat spokesman in the State Senate. “We always knew that this case would be settled by the courts of appeal.”

Democrats could challenge a ruling in the Supreme Court’s Appeals Division or the State Court of Appeals – New York’s highest court, all of whose members were Democrat-appointed. Analysts said both locations would likely be more advantageous to Democrats than rural Steuben County. Either way, their appeal will almost certainly put Judge McAllister’s decisions on hold.

“Plaintiffs got what they wanted when they entered the Steuben County court,” said Jeffrey Wice, assistant professor at New York Law School’s Census and Redistricting Institute. “Whether they take their victory all the way to the State Court of Appeals is a tough battle for them.”

Regardless of the final ruling, the Vice said it was highly unlikely that higher courts would suspend this year’s electoral calendar, as Judge McAllister suggested in his ruling. The period in which prospective applicants in New York are collecting petitions to qualify for entry to the new neighborhoods will end next week. It would be costly and chaotic to restart the process.

The plaintiffs in the case were voters across the state, but their lawsuit was funded and supervised by Republicans in Albany and Washington, who sued almost immediately after Mrs. Hochul signed the new maps in February.

Republicans, who made keeping the new maps of New York a top national priority, celebrated the ruling Thursday and predicted they would win on appeal.

“Democrats in New York should be ashamed of what they tried to do here,” said Chris Christie, former New Jersey governor who is chairman of the National Republican Redistricting Trust.

But it was not only the guerrillas who were satisfied with the result. Jeremy M. Creelan, who, as an advisor to the government of the time, helped draft the 2014 constitutional amendment. Andrew M. Cuomo said Thursday’s ruling should silence critics who said the changes were completely ineffective.

“It is clear that the amendment to the constitution served the critical function of the reform that was intended,” he said.

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