New York’s highest court heard arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit that could reshape congressional districts in the state, which is expected to be a key battleground next year in the fight for control of the U.S. House.
The Court of Appeals hearing in Buffalo came as Democrats want to scrap the state’s district lines after losing congressional seats that helped Republicans win a narrow majority last year.
Democrats want the maps to be redrawn in a way that will give the party an edge in 2024. Republicans are trying to keep the current district lines in place.
The case could have major ramifications for the coming elections, where Republicans’ control of the House is set to be tested by races in New York and other states where redistricting battles could sway seats in favor of either party.
“New York is being looked at as one state that can provide more congressional opportunities,” said New York Law School professor Jeffrey Wice, adding “each of these court battles matter as Democrats try to win their way back to a majority.”
The lawsuit follows a bungled redistricting effort by Democrats for the 2022 elections.
The maps used in last year’s elections were supposed to be drawn by an independent, bipartisan commission that was established by voters to remove politics from the redistricting process. But Republicans and Democrats on the commission could not reach a consensus and eventually gave up, allowing the Democrat-controlled Legislature to draw its own map.
That map was expected to give Democrats a major edge by clustering Republican voters into a few GOP super districts, while diluting their voting power in the rest of the state.
A legal challenge stopped the Democrats’ plan though.
The Court of Appeals ruled that the state Legislature hadn’t followed proper procedure in adopting the maps. A judge instead had an independent expert draw a new set of congressional lines that, along with strong GOP turnout, led to Republicans flipping seats in the New York City suburbs and gaining control of the House.
Now, Democrats want the Court of Appeals to restart the redistricting process.
They argued that the maps should be redrawn by the commission, following a set of procedures in state law, rather than reusing the court-drawn map from last year.
Republicans said the court’s expert came up with politically balanced districts that shouldn’t be discarded.
“They’re asking for a do-over to try and gerrymander the state again, and it really flies in the face of common sense,” said John Faso, a former congressman who is advising other Republicans in the case.
Judges on the Court of Appeals applied heavy scrutiny to both sides during the almost two-hour long hearing Wednesday, which centered on the interpretation of constitutional questions that have lingered over the current map. It is unclear exactly when the Court of Appeals will issue a decision in the case.
Similar redistricting fights are still playing out in other states.
Nationwide, Democrats have dedicated major financial and organizational resources to retake districts in New York next year. Republicans are aiming to hold onto the seats, focusing on issues such as crime and the arrival of migrants that they hope will animate suburban voters.
About a week ago, many looked to New York’s election results for clues about how suburban areas around the country may vote next year.
Republicans, who won all four congressional races on Long Island in 2022, continued their streak there with wins in county executive races. Democrats, meanwhile, notched wins in suburbs north of the city.
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