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Court Fight Likely Over New Congressional Districts

Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, is pictured speaking in favor of proposed congressional maps submitted by the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission on the Assembly floor on Monday.

Voting maps for this year’s November election for Congress are likely headed to court for the third time in two years.

Republicans challenged maps drawn in 2022 on the grounds they were unconstitutionally gerrymandered, an argument with which state courts agreed. Because congressional elections were approaching quickly, the court approved a special master to draw maps for 2022 congressional elections throughout the state. Those maps resulted in districts that helped Republicans gain New York seats in Congress.

Democrats then sued in state court, saying the congressional maps should be redrawn by the Independent Redistricting Commission to follow the process approved by voters in a statewide constitutional referendum in 2014. Courts again agreed. The Independent Redistricting Commission approved maps a couple of weeks ago closely resembling the 2022 court-appointed special master’s maps.

Democrats, in largely party line votes in the state Assembly and Senate on Monday, rejected those maps, setting the stage for Democrats to draw new lines and likely bringing a Republican court challenge once those maps are approved.

Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, Assemblyman Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, and state Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, voted with their fellow Republicans in favor of the commission’s most recent maps while Democrats voted against the maps.

State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, speaks in favor of proposed congressional maps on the Senate floor on Monday. In a party line vote, Democrats chose to reject the maps and will draw their own congressional maps for use in the November election.

“I hope when we vote on this we stand up and say when we have independent maps approved overwhelmingly on a bipartisan basis that are very similar to the maps approved by a court and created earlier by an independent master,” Goodell said on the Assembly floor. “It deserves our support and I hope that we don’t go down the road of saying the only maps the majority is going to approve are those that bring into question whether or not the maps were drawn to favor a particular party or a particular politician rather than being independent, nonpartisan and fair.”

Democrats will submit and approve a new set of congressional lines, which is expected in the coming days. Republicans are already threatening a legal challenge, as they did after the last set of Democrat-approved maps in 2022.

Sen. Michael Gianaris, D-Astoria and Senate deputy majority leader, said prior to the Senate vote that many Democrats had concerns about splitting up communities of interest. The Independent Redistricting Commission’s maps would have helped Democrats in two districts and a Republican in oneDemocrats will now try to redraw the congressional district maps in a way that helps Democrats win more congressional seats in November without being overtly gerrymandered.

According to the Associated Press, U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who is leading Democrats’ effort to recapture House seats in New York, has criticized the commission’s proposal. Jeffries’ spokesman Andy Eichar said the commission’s map ignored concerns about dividing communities and that one change helping an incumbent Republican “would be a clear violation of the New York State Constitution.” The statement did not mention that the map would also help an incumbent Democrat.

Borrello argued on the Senate floor that the Independent Redistricting Commission had done its job after fumbling the job two years ago. The 2022 commission couldn’t come to agreement on a redistricting plan and forwarded two plans to the legislature. This year’s process resulted in clear consensus, which Borrello argued is what state voters wanted to see when they approved creation of the redistricting commission a decade ago.

“There were 10 members of this commission, 10 commissioners,” Borrello said. “Nine to one they voted to support this map. Nine to one. Find 10 people who want to go out to dinner and find 10 people that all want the same food. Find nine out of 10 – that’s a difficult thing to do. But a process like this, a difficult process, 9-1 voted to support these maps. The reality is we don’t really care what the people think. We care about what the political outcome is at the end. And that’s what this is about. It’s taking it away from the people. Taking away the choices that they made, the constitutional amendment … The people of New York did so and created this process and we are once again going to undermine this process, say we don’t trust you, the people that brought us here, the people who vote for us. We don’t trust you to do the right thing. We’re going to tell you what your will is. That’s wrong.”

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