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.
In a unanimous decision, New York State's highest court on Thursday upheld Senate Republicans’ plans for a 63-seat chamber, removing one of the last remaining hurdles to the redistricting deal struck by state legislators and Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The state Court of Appeals, holding that precedent had “settled that acts of the Legislature are entitled to a strong presumption of constitutionality”, rejected the Senate Democrats’ argument that the formula Republicans used to get to 63 seats violated the process laid out in the state constitution.
“It is not our task to address the wisdom of the methods employed by the Legislature in accomplishing their constitutional mandate. Rather, here, we consider only whether the methods chosen amount to ‘a gross and deliberate violation of the plain intent of the Constitution and a disregard of its spirit and the purpose for which express limitations are included therein’,” the court wrote, citing a ruling from 1907.
“Despite petitioners' [Senate Democrats] assertions, we cannot say that consistent application of one method of calculation is required, given the Constitution’s silence on this issue and our recognition that the Legislature must be accorded a measure of discretion in these matters,” wrote the court. “Under these circumstances, petitioners have not met their burden of demonstrating that the use of two constitutionally adequate means of determining the number of Senate seats, in the course of addressing two discrete historical contexts, is unconstitutional.”
The ruling comes as another blow to Senate Democrats’ hopes of undoing the redistricting agreement between the state legislature and Cuomo.
After promising for months to veto lines drawn by legislators, Cuomo agreed to a compromise with the legislature earlier this year: he signed their lines--criticized by some good-government and civic groups, as well as current and former elected officials, as being overtly partisan—in exchange for a constitutional amendment to establish a legislatively-appointed commission to handle future redistricting.
Since its passage, Senate Democrats and groups opposed to the agreement, such as Common Cause, have looked to the legal system, both in Albany and Washington, for ways to invalidate the lines.
Now that the Justice Department has agreed the state’s lines are in line with the voting rights act and the state courts have said the 63-seat senate passes muster, those hoping to see the lines erased are putting their final hope in the hands of the same federal court that drew the state’s congressional lines.
The Favors court, as it’s been come to be called, continued to exist as a backstop should DoJ and the state courts toss out the state legislative lines, just as it did when the legislature was unwilling to come to an agreement on the congressional lines in time. The court is currently looking into whether the consistent under population of state Senate districts in Republican-leaning areas violates the one-person, one-vote protection of the 14th Amendment.
This, though, is the last stand for Senate Democrats and their fellow travelers. Should the Favors court rule in favor of the lines as-passed, the last legal hurdle will be cleared, allowing the deal struck between state legislators and Cuomo to stick.