BY MOSHE HILL OPINION COLUMNS JULY 20 2023
The New York State Appeals Court ordered that the Congressional lines for the state must be redrawn before the 2024 election, possibly shifting the balance of power in the House of Representatives before any votes are cast.
In 2022, there were several legal cases regarding gerrymandering in which the Democrats took over the process that was supposed to be led by a bipartisan redistricting commission. This was a refutation of a 2021 ballot measure in which the voters specifically rejected the redistricting process to become partisan, a result the Democrats in Albany circumvented to ensure they would maintain Congressional dominance in the state.
The results in 2022 were atrocious. The old map, which was active between 2012 and 2022, had 17 Democrat, 7 Republican, and 3 tossup districts. After losing a seat as a result of the 2020 census, the Democrats redistricted the remaining 26 seats to have 20 Democrat seats, 4 Republican, and 2 tossups. The maps were so laughable that the court ordered a postponement of the Congressional primary and redrew the lines. The map, until this appeals court ruling, was 15 Democrat, 8 Republican, and 3 tossups.
Of course, Party advantage is not the end of the story. In terms of results, in a year where Republicans were supposed to have massive gains in both the House and the Senate, the only bright spot in the country outside of Florida was New York. While Lee Zeldin didn’t end up winning his long-shot bid for Governor, 11 Republicans won their Congressional seats, flipping four areas previously held by Democrats. Those flips were integral into giving the Republicans the Majority in the House.
Now, a state appeals court has ruled that these district lines were only a temporary fix. They have ordered a bipartisan redistricting commission to redraw the lines again, giving the Democrat-dominated State Legislature the final say over the district boundaries for the next decade. The appeals court is essentially giving the power back to the Party that butchered the lines to begin with.
The political consequences are significant. If it stands, Democrats could potentially draw new district lines that make it very difficult for incumbent Republican representatives to win reelection. If the ruling stands, both parties believe Democrats could conceivably draw maps that would make re-election almost impossible for incumbent Republicans like Representatives Mike Lawler and Marc Molinaro in the Hudson Valley, or Anthony D’Esposito and George Santos on Long Island and in Queens.
Republicans vowed to appeal the ruling, sending this to the highest court in the state, the Court of Appeals. This is the same court that blocked the initial map, but there is no indication on how they would rule this time. During an interview, Mike Lawler said, “Democrats tried to gerrymander New York’s maps last year and failed miserably when the Court of Appeals threw them out and ruled them unconstitutional. And they had a disastrous election. We flipped four seats, bringing our total to 11 and securing the House Republican majority. And since they can’t beat us in a fair set of maps, they’re back in court trying to gerrymander them again.”
Taking aim at Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Lawler said, “Hakeem Jeffries’ entire play here is to become Speaker, and he knows that this runs through New York State. So, they’re doing everything they can to defeat people like me in a district.”
Jeffries could hardly hide his glee when asked about redistricting. “This is pretty simple,” Jeffries said. “The current Congressional lines in New York were drawn by an unelected, out-of-state special master, who was handpicked by an extreme right-wing judge from Steuben County, which is located closer to Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Toronto than it is to New York City, Long Island, Westchester, Rockland, or the Hudson Valley communities. And so, it was a flawed process that was unacceptable, undemocratic, and unconscionable.” Jeffries made no mention of the fact that the supposed “independent commission” was hijacked by partisan actors, necessitating the special master appointment to begin with. Instead, he attacks the judge as not being a real “New Yorker.”
The Court of Appeals will hear this case, so the process is not over yet. However, if the ruling is upheld, it will be at least eight more years before Republicans have a chance of getting a decent delegation to Washington from New York, which is exactly what the Democrats are aiming to accomplish.