New York’s highest court heard arguments on Wednesday in a lawsuit that could reshape the state’s congressional districts, which are expected to be a major battleground next year in the struggle for control of the US House of Representatives.
The appeals court hearing in Buffalo came as Democrats want to eliminate the state’s district lines after losing congressional seats that helped Republicans win a narrow majority last year.
Democrats want to redraw the maps in a way that gives the party an advantage in 2024. Republicans are trying to keep current district lines in place.
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The issue could have major ramifications for the upcoming election, as Republican 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 seen as one state that can provide more opportunities for Congress,” said Jeffrey Weiss, a professor at New York Law School, adding that “each of these court battles is important as Democrats try to regain the majority.”
The lawsuit comes in the wake of Democrats’ failed redistricting efforts in the 2022 election.
The maps used in last year’s election 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 committee were unable to reach consensus and eventually gave up, allowing the Democratic-controlled Legislature to draw its own map.
This map was expected to give Democrats a significant advantage by congregating Republican voters in a few large GOP districts, while weakening their voting power in the rest of the state.
But a legal challenge halted the Democrats’ plan.
The appeals court ruled that the state legislature did not follow proper procedure in adopting the maps. Instead, a judge asked an independent expert to draw a new set of lines in Congress that, combined with strong GOP turnout, led Republicans to flip seats in the New York City suburbs and take control of the House.
Now, Democrats want the appeals court to resume the redistricting process.
They argued that the commission should redraw the maps, following a set of procedures in state law, rather than reuse the court-drawn map from last year.
Republicans said the court’s expert found politically balanced districts that should not be eliminated.
“They’re asking for things to be brought back to try to gerrymander again, and that really flies in the face of common sense,” said John Faso, a former congressman who is advising other Republicans on the issue.
The appeals court justices applied intense scrutiny to both sides during the nearly two-hour hearing Wednesday, which focused on interpreting constitutional questions that remained unresolved on the existing map. It is unclear when the Court of Appeal will issue its decision in this case.
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Similar redistricting battles are still being fought in other states.
Nationally, Democrats have allocated significant financial and organizational resources to regain control of districts in New York next year. Republicans aim to hold on to the seats, focusing on issues such as crime and immigrant arrivals that they hope will motivate suburban voters.
About a week ago, many were looking to New York’s election results for clues about how suburban areas across the country might 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. Meanwhile, Democrats scored victories in the suburbs north of the city.