Colby Hamilton, Writer, WNYC News
Colby Hamilton is a general assignment reporter. He originally joined WNYC as a political blogger. He's a proud graduate of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
Like a sequel to a horror movie most people never saw in the first place, New York’s redistricting saga continues to play out in court rooms and administrative offices from Washington, DC and Albany.
Even before Governor Andrew Cuomo signed off on a compromised redistricting agreement with state legislators—which was ultimately a reversal on his promise to veto maps drawn by said legislators—legal activity surrounding the contentious redrawing of the state’s political boundaries has kept the compromise signed into law by the Governor from being the final word.
The redistricting afterlife, it turns out, consists of three levels of political purgatory.
The first exists in the inferno of the state’s legal system by way of the Cohen case. The plaintiffs in this case, who are aligned with the Senate Democrats, filed a lawsuit against the Senate Republicans over their at-the-time proposed 63 Senate-seat plan. During the first hearing in the case, the judge decided the case wasn’t ready proceed because the Republican-drawn maps hadn’t been signed into law.
Now that they are, the case is moving forward. The plaintiffs argue a 63rd Senate seat is unconstitutional because the method Senate Republicans used this year were different than the court-supported method in 2000.
If the judge in the case agrees with them, the Republicans will then have to go back to the drawing board and, within 30 days, come up with a new 62-seat plan. Governor Cuomo will be a Sisyphean choice of signing another redistricting plan into law which good government groups and fellow Democrats in the Senate will ask him not to.
The state court is anticipated to rule in the Cohen case soon.
Meanwhile, the Senate and Assembly have their plans stewing away in the Department of Justice cauldron in Washington, DC. The DoJ is reviewing their plans to make sure they comply with the Voting Rights Act. The plans have also been submitted to a three-judge federal court in DC, in an attempt to speed up DoJ’s 60-day preclearance process.
If the defendants in the Cohen case—that is, Senate Republicans—either win the case or get an injunction to let their plan move forward while they appeal, the DoJ review will continue and be resolved by May 15 at the latest. The federal courts reviewing New York’s new lines have asked DoJ to give some sort of answer by this Friday.
So even if the state court accepts the Senate Republican’s redistricting math, there is a chance that the Justice Department, or one of the special courts reviewing the lines for pre-clearance purposes, could declare all or a portion of the maps in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Back to the drawing board again.
Finally, below all of these proceedings, like some sort of molten magma core, lies the court that’s keeping the Favors case in suspended animation. You remember the Favors case; it’s the legal challenges to the entire redistricting process that resulted in a federal judge drawing the state’s new congressional lines.
The Favor’s case hasn’t gone away. The court has decided to stick around in the event any of the other court proceedings result in a situation similar to the state legislature’s failure to produce congressional maps in time for the earlier-than-usual primary season. If that becomes the case—which is to say, if the Cohen case or the Justice Department reviews end up throwing out the new lines—the court in the Favor’s case is ready to step in like they did for the congressional map.
Oh yeah: And, if the Favor’s fallback situation weren’t enough, new claims have been brought in the case, asking that the federal court look at some of the contentious pieces being argued in the Cohen case, as well as some of the issues, such as the accusation of racially-driven senate seat drawing out in Nassau County, which opponents of the Senate’s lines in particular have brought up.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the polling booth…