“I do not think so !” : Judge denies trying to overturn New York Congress cards

Judge Peter Lynch questions the plaintiffs’ lawyers during closing arguments on Monday. (Vaughn Golden/WSKG)

An Albany judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit that tried to order New York’s Independent Redistricting Commission to redraw the state’s congressional districts, reversing maps implemented by a separate court earlier This year.

The petitioners who filed the lawsuit are a group of New York voters who argued that the Independent Redistricting Commission, or IRC, should be ordered by the judge to submit a second set of proposed maps for approval to the legislature of the state. The state Constitution stipulates that the IRC submit a second set of cards to the Legislative Assembly if its first proposal fails. The Legislature rejected the IRC’s first submission this year, but the panel broke down and did not submit a second round to the Legislature, ultimately leading lawmakers to draw their own maps which were judged unconstitutional by the highest court in the state.

“The people of New York wanted the commission to have two chances to send these cards and that didn’t happen,” Aria Branch, the plaintiffs’ attorney, told the judge during closing arguments in the case Monday.

Elias Law Group, the firm representing the petitioners, does important legal work for the arms of the Democratic Party. The firm has received more than $7 million in 2022 for work on behalf of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee – the party’s two main campaign arms.

Albany County Supreme Court Judge Peter Lynch strongly questioned Branch whether he had the authority to intervene with the cards, given that the Constitution calls for the courts to resolve legal issues in the process of redistricting, which had already been done in a case finally decided by the state’s highest court earlier this year.

“The question is whether the IRC has the authority to now submit a second redistricting plan corresponding to the 2020 Federal Census. I believe not!” Lynch wrote in her ruling, released just hours after the court argument on Monday.

The judge further claimed that allowing the courts to order the IRC to redraw the maps outside of the 10-year redrawing cycle could set a precedent where they are frequently challenged and overturned, resulting in the same upheaval seen during split primary elections this summer. dates.

“The constitutional mandate that approved the establishment of redistricting maps for a reasoned period, ten years, is to ensure the stability of the electoral process,” Lynch wrote in his decision. “The relief sought by the petitioner runs counter to that intent, as it would pave the way for an annual redistricting process, wreaking havoc on the electoral process.”

Responding to questions from Lynch earlier in the day, Branch argued that the language of the constitutional provision allowing for redistricting challenges does not specify that such a challenge cannot be brought in the middle of a redistricting cycle.

“There is nothing in the text of this provision to indicate that this is a one-time use provision,” Branch argued. “There is no indication that a map drawn in accordance with this provision should be in place for the remainder of the decade.”

The motion to dismiss the case was brought by a group of voters, backed by Republicans, who successfully challenged the state’s Congressional and Senate maps earlier this year. Lynch allowed them to intervene in the case. They were also joined in the impeachment motion by the five Republican-appointed IRC commissioners.

The ability of the IRC to come together and reach consensus on new maps was also at stake in the arguments, given that it failed to do so just a few months ago. Lynch wrote that he doesn’t believe the panel, as it currently stands, is capable of drawing new maps.

“The petitioner disregards the record-breaking demonstration of the IRC’s inherent inability to achieve consensus on a bipartisan plan,” Lynch wrote. “In other words, ordering the IRC to submit a second plan would be futile!”

Lynch also asked the commissioners’ lawyers about their assessment of whether the panel could reach consensus on the maps if it had been tasked with drawing new ones, given its previous failure to do so.

“I think that’s a very fair assessment based on how the IRC has done so far,” Timothy Hill, an attorney representing the five Republican-appointed commissioners, told Lynch.

The lawyer representing three of the five Democratic-appointed commissioners disagreed with the assessment that the commission would be in vain and pushed back against the idea that the panel was deadlocked, saying instead that the Republican commissioners had refused to meet.

“My clients do not believe it would be an exercise in futility for the commission to be fully staffed, all 10 commissioners are now part of the commission,” Allison Nicole Douglis told the judge. “There is no shortage of personnel that would prevent the commission from quickly undertaking the redesign of the second deck of cards.”

Douglis also pointed out that when the commission failed to reach consensus on the maps earlier this year, legislation passed by the Legislative Assembly was in place to clarify the process for developing the maps in the event of failure. of the IRC. That legislation was struck down by the Court of Appeals in the same decision that declared the Congressional and State Senate maps unconstitutional earlier this year. Douglis argued that the absence of this legislation coupled with a court order would make it more clear that the commission must come to a consensus.

The question of the commission’s ability to do its job is likely to dominate arguments in a separate proceeding on how to redraw state Assembly district lines in a Manhattan court later this week. A judge overseeing this process is consider ordering the IRC to redraw the lines of the Assembly District for 2024.

The Manhattan case was the first in which the assembly lines were struck down, though the court chose not to reshuffle districts for the 2022 election cycle so close to the primary election. This means that the lawsuit is somewhat different in that the IRC would act as part of the court’s constitutional complaint to fix the map like an independent redistricting expert or “special master” did to redraw congressional districts and of the State Senate earlier this year. Either way, the question of whether the panel can actually reach consensus on the cards remains.

Lawyers for the IRC commissioners are due to submit briefs to the court by Thursday and will appear in person for a hearing on Friday.

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