A New York State Court of Appeals judge ruled last week that congressional and state senate maps that favored Democrats must be redrawn. Pols and the state legislature that voted on the maps pushed back on the ruling that ultimately decides residents’ voting rights for the next decade and could move the June primaries to August.
“Millions and millions of voters, here in New York City, throughout downstate New York, are unable to have their voices heard in this redistricting process. That is unacceptable. That is unconscionable. That is un-American,” said U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, at a press conference this Tuesday.
Since Republicans and Democrats on the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission couldn’t agree on a singular redistricting map for the state after the 2020 Census, everything was turned over to the state legislature to make final decisions on a rushed deadline in January 2022. Impacted immigrant, Asian, and Hispanic communities in New York City were especially concerned about the lack of public input as the legislature was making its final decisions.
That led to State Supreme Court Judge Patrick McAllister, a Republican, ruling that the “Democrat controlled” redistricting maps should be redrawn and are “unconstitutional” this year. And in an appeals court hearing on April 20, the legislative maps were voted down.
“We are reviewing the decision,” Senate Majority Communications Director Mike Murphy had initially said in a statement.
Murphy followed up that statement later the same day in abject disagreement with the courts’ ruling. “We disagree with the Court of Appeals decision and believe in the constitutionality of the congressional and state legislative maps passed earlier this year,” said Murphy. “The state senate maps in particular corrected an egregious partisan gerrymander and have not been overturned on the merits by any court. We will make our case to the special master appointed by the court.”
The Associated Press reported that the courts ruled the senate has no authority to redraw state maps if the independent redistricting commission fails to agree. They also said lawmakers “gerrymandered the congressional maps to Democrats’ favor.” The courts handed authority over to “a special court master” to figure out the new maps ahead of the primaries and general election, said AP.
Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair and Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn said the ruling is a “serious disappointment” to her colleagues who voted on the maps with “constituents in mind.”
“Having an August election will be a blow to our Brooklyn community and all New Yorkers as many families travel in August, and so the voter turnout may be low. This is yet another reason we must preserve voting rights by mail,” said Bichotte Hermelyn about the impact on the June primaries timeline. “Irrespective of these hurdles, we will expeditiously carry out the redrawing of new maps in accordance with the judge’s order. No matter the outcome, Democrats will be triumphant.”
Jeffries has also addressed a letter to McAllister that the public input of communities of color and millions of other New Yorkers is being denied, especially in his congressional district which covers parts of Brooklyn and Queens.
He contends in the letter that no one from downstate will likely be able to appear in-person at the appointed public hearing on May 6, 2022, at 9:30 a.m. at the Steuben County Courthouse in Bath, New York.
The independent redistricting commission had held months-long forums in 2021, both in person and virtual, across the state to gather adequate community feedback before drawing their maps.
“According to the Court, if one of my many diverse constituents in Brooklyn or Queens wanted to appear in person to express their views about the redistricting litigation, their only opportunity to do so would be to venture to Steuben County, New York on a single work day this week,” wrote Jeffries.
Jeffries called for the court to schedule additional hearings at locations accessible throughout the state, including in New York City, Albany and Buffalo before ruling on legislative and congressional districts drawn by an “unelected, out-of-town special master.”
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w