Revamping the Redistricting Process: A Case for an Independent Approach in New YorkNovember 14, 2023
The state Court of Appeals will hear a major redistricting case tomorrow in Hoffmann vs. Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC). If the court upholds the lower court’s ruling, as it should, New Yorkers will finally get congressional district maps drawn under the IRC process enshrined in our state Constitution. But Republicans desperate to keep that from happening have been pressuring the court to overturn the ruling. They want to force New Yorkers to live for an entire decade — until 2032 — with the court-imposed emergency maps that an unelected special master hastily drafted last year. New Yorkers have a constitutional right to congressional redistricting through the IRC process — regardless of who may benefit politically. The IRC should be ordered to draw new congressional maps, not because the outcome might help one political party, but because the state Constitution and the rule of law demand it. In 2014, New Yorkers overwhelmingly voted to ban partisan gerrymandering and write IRC-based redistricting into the Constitution. Bipartisan majorities in two consecutively elected Legislatures approved the new constitutional map-drawing process, requiring extensive public hearings before a diverse, politically balanced IRC. Legislators are prohibited from making changes before voting on two full rounds of IRC-drawn redistricting plans. In 2022, however, the IRC process ran off the rails. After deadlocking on party lines, the IRC sent competing first-round plans to the Legislature, which rejected both. The Legislature passed a statute allowing it to take over if the IRC failed to submit a second-round redistricting plan. When that happened, the Legislature used the statute to adopt its own maps, which heavily favored Democrats. In Harkenrider vs. Hochul, the Court of Appeals rejected the Legislature’s maps because the IRC failed to perform its constitutional duty to submit a second plan. The statute unconstitutionally altered that mandatory requirement. While the court found the maps also violated the ban on partisan gerrymandering, that wasn’t why it struck them down. Any maps the Legislature drew would have been invalid without a second IRC redistricting plan. With election deadlines looming, the court held it was too late to fix the IRC-based process for 2022. It ordered a court-supervised remedy and directed a special master to “swiftly” create emergency maps “for use in the 2022 election.” But the Harkenrider majority said nothing about keeping the judicial maps in place past 2022. The court stressed that the constitutional IRC-based process should be “the exclusive method of redistricting” and refused “to render [it] inconsequential” by excusing the IRC’s failure to submit a second plan. Critically, the Constitution mandates that the IRC-based process “shall govern” redistricting and limits court intervention to what is strictly “required.” That means judicial remedies must be narrowly tailored. The Constitution doesn’t require an emergency plan to last a decade, nor does it generally prohibit “mid-decade redistricting.” Rather, a plan’s duration expressly may be “modified by court order.” And courts must give the Legislature a “full and fair opportunity” to correct any legal violations. Now that the 2022 emergency is over, the special-master’s emergency plan must give way to completion of IRC-based congressional redistricting. Republicans claim the emergency maps somehow fulfilled New Yorkers’ intentions by including “competitive” districts. That misses the point. The special master — an out-of-state professor with no prior New York redistricting experience — overrode the IRC’s first-round maps in favor of his own plan. New Yorkers never intended to bestow such power on one unelected individual for an entire decade….