Judge redraws Congressional district lines

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The failure of the State Legislature has left a panel of federal judges with the final decision on district lines.

Due to the state government’s inability to come to an agreement on Congressional redistricting, the panel imposed a court-drawn, revised map on March 19.

The court’s ruling reduces the number of districts from 29 to 27 as a result of the 2010 Census. The map – which is very similar to the one originally drafted by the panel-appointed magistrate, Roanne Mann – breaks and dissolves the Brooklyn and Queens territory currently represented by Republican Congressmember Bob Turner into several surrounding districts. Congressmember Maurice Hinchey – a Democrat who plans to retire at the end of his current term – has also had his Hudson Valley district eliminated.

New York was among the last states in the country to deal with redistricting, forcing the court to tackle the task.

“Faced yet again with a dysfunctional state legislature, the federal judiciary in New York must now undertake the ‘unwelcome obligation’ of creating a plan redrawing the State’s electoral districts for the United States Congress,” Mann said.

The panel, composed of Dora Irizarry of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn and Gerard Lynch and Reena Raggi of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, were obligated to act with a sense of urgency in order to complete the lines by March 20 – the first day candidates for Congress can collect signatures to qualify for a position on the primary ballot. The primary was previously moved up to June 26 in order to ensure residents serving overseas in the military had adequate time to vote by mail.

“In prior redistricting challenges, New York has avoided such a wholesale transfer of state legislative power to the federal courts through last-minute enactments of new redistricting plans,” the panel wrote. “In this case, however, New York has been willing to let even the last minute pass and to abdicate the whole of its redistricting power to a reluctant federal court.”

Richard Mancino and Daniel Burstein, the attorneys who represented a group of civic leaders in a lawsuit aimed at urging the federal courts to take control of redistricting, praised the panel’s decision.

“Through this well-reasoned decision, the court has adeptly responded to the exigent circumstances caused by the Legislature’s failure to enact its own congressional redistricting plan,” said the lawyers. “Our clients wish that an independent redistricting commission could have drawn these districts, but we are grateful that the independent judiciary stepped in to fill this void and create its own principled plan.”

As part of the plan, a large portion of Turner’s territory will be absorbed by the new Sixth Congressional District – which has drawn interest from a number of elected officials since Congressmember Gary Ackerman’s stunning announcement that he will not seek a 16th term in office.

Assemblymembers Grace Meng and Rory Lancman and Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley have already come forward and announced their intentions to run for Ackerman’s seat. Meng was selected as the nominee of the Queens Democratic Party.

Turner has abandoned his hopes of Congressional re-election and opted to seek both the Republican and Conservative nomination in hopes of defeating Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

The court redrew only the Congressional district maps, however, as the Legislature was able to agree upon Senate and Assembly boundaries. The maps drawn the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) – made up largely of Republican senators – were approved and signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo on March 14, along with a bill creating a bipartisan commission to draw district lines in 2022. The new lines must still be approved by the Justice Department to ensure they do not disenfranchise minority voters.