NY Governor, Legislature Taken to Court Over Alleged ‘Unconstitutional’ Gerrymandering Effort

© REUTERS / CINDY SCHULTZNew York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul speaks during a news conference the day after Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation at the New York State Capitol, in Albany, New York, U.S., August 11, 2021
New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul speaks during a news conference the day after Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation at the New York State Capitol, in Albany, New York, U.S., August 11, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 04.02.2022
Gerrymandering – the practice of manipulating the boundaries of electoral districts to create an unfair advantage for one party – is a tradition in US politics going back to the 1800s, with Republicans and Democrats waging a never-ending battle to squeeze the maximum number of votes possible out of a particular county, city, district or state.
A group of 14 plaintiffs has taken New York Governor Kathy Hochul and Democratic lawmakers from the New York State Legislature to court over newly minted congressional district lines heavily favouring the president’s party and expected to add up to three seats for Democrats in the House of Representatives in the upcoming 2022 midterms.
The new congressional district maps, approved by state lawmakers on Wednesday, were signed by Hochul on Thursday.
The plaintiffs allege that the redistricting is unconstitutional and that it violates legal measures approved in 2014 regarding the process for redrawing electoral districts to avoid politically motivated gerrymandering.
“The People of New York in 2014 enshrined in the New York Constitution an exclusive process for enacting replacement congressional districts, while also prohibiting partisan and incumbent-protection gerrymandering,” attorneys for the plaintiffs wrote in the suit, which was filed at the Steuben County Supreme Court.
“The [New York] Legislature had no authority to enact the new map because the Legislature did not follow the exclusive process for enacting replacement maps that the People enshrined through the 2014 amendments, meaning that the congressional map is entirely void,” the lawsuit suggests.
The suit asks the Court to adopt a new map as soon as possible, “prior to the impending deadlines for candidates to access the ballot,” to resolve the issue. Election primaries will begin in New York State in June.
The plaintiffs suggest that even if the Court finds that Hochul and the State Legislatures did have the authority to rejigger the electoral districts, it should still “reject it as a matter of substance,” because “the map is an obviously unconstitutional partisan and incumbent-protection gerrymander. If the court takes this approach, it should invalidate the map and then send it back to the legislature to create a new congressional map, which complies with the law.”
Along with Hochul, the case names her deputy, Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin, State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Speaker of the Assembly Carl Heastie, the New York State Board of Elections and the legislative task force on electoral reapportionment.
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The current crop of representatives to the US House of Representatives from New York includes 19 Democrats and 8 Republicans. Due to the outflow of residents from the state observed in 2020 census data, the state has lost a district. Under the new redistricting approved by Hochul Thursday, Democrats are broadly expected to win 22 of the state’s 26 seats in the upcoming election.
The midterm vote will take place on 8 November, with all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 34 of the 100 seats in the Senate, 39 governorships, and thousands of smaller state and local offices up for grabs.
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