April 29, 2022

As you have likely heard by now, on Wednesday the NY Court of Appeals struck down the redistricting maps drawn by the legislature for both Congress and the State Senate. The court’s unexpected decision to radically upend state politics just two months before voters were set to go to the polls for primary elections has left everyone with more questions than answers as to what will happen next. I’ve attempted to answer as many of those questions below as I can, and as always I will keep you updated as we continue to learn more.

What races are impacted by the court’s decision?
In the simplest terms possible, the court decision made two separate findings – first, that the adoption of new Congressional, State Senate, and State Assembly districts by the state legislature failed to follow what the court believed to be the correct process under the state constitution. Second, the court decided that the congressional map (but not the senate or assembly maps) was drawn to unduly favor one political party over another. The court therefore struck down the senate and congressional maps for procedural reasons, and also indicated that even if correct procedures had been followed, it would have struck down the congressional map as a political gerrymander. The court did NOT strike down the Assembly map because the plaintiffs in this lawsuit had not asked for the Assembly map to be overturned and courts cannot go beyond the scope of a case to render a decision on subjects they weren’t asked to decide. However, if a new lawsuit is filed against the assembly maps, which is very likely, courts would almost certainly strike down the assembly maps since they were passed using the same procedure that the court decided was fatally flawed in the case of the senate and congressional maps. 

What was the flaw that invalidated the State Senate maps?
According to the NYS constitution, the process was meant to go as follows. An Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC), consisting of an even number of Democratic and Republican appointed members, was to submit proposed district maps to the legislature to approve or reject. If those maps were denied, the IRC was to develop a second set of maps for the Legislature to approve or reject. If the second set of maps was also rejected, then the legislature could create and vote on a new set of maps. 

What actually happened was that after the IRC’s first submission to the legislature was rejected, they deadlocked and informed the legislature that they would not be able to agree to submit a second set of maps for us to approve or reject. At that point, since the time to collect petition signatures was rapidly approaching and voters and candidates needed to know what district they would be in, the legislature adopted new maps, since doing nothing would have left the state’s political landscape in chaos, with a deadlocked IRC and no maps. 

However, the court ruled that since the IRC failed to come to a consensus on a second set of maps and therefore never delivered them, the Legislature acted inappropriately by simply drawing and passing maps. If the IRC had delivered a second set of maps and the Legislature voted them down, it is likely based on this decision that the State Senate maps would have been upheld as being valid maps. 

Can the decision be appealed?
No, the New York State Court of Appeals is the highest court in New York State, and has the final word on issues relating to the New York State Constitution. In theory, someone could file a separate lawsuit in federal court if they feel whatever maps are ultimately adopted violate the federal Voting Rights Act or other federal law, however, it’s not clear how likely this outcome is. 

Who will draw the maps now?
The court ruled that a “special master,” a professional consultant appointed by the judge in Steuben County who originally heard the case will decide on new maps that must be approved by the judge. Because the State Senate maps were not found to be a gerrymander, but simply procedurally defective, it is possible that the special master and court will end up re-adopting the existing state senate map, while drawing a new congressional map. The special master chosen by the judge is named Jonathan Cervas, and he is a postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University.

Isn’t it strange to have a single person chosen by an elected Republican judge in a small upstate county draw maps for state senate and congressional districts that could reshape the state’s political landscape for the next 10 years?
Yes. But somehow this is what four out of seven judges on New York’s highest court thought was the best way to handle this crucial once in a decade task.

Will this change when the primary election is?
It is highly likely at this point that one of two outcomes will occur. The first possibility is that the primaries for statewide and local offices and Assembly seats will take place on June 28 as planned, and Congressional and State Senate races will take place on August 23, the date chosen by the judge that originally heard this case. Or it is possible due to the massive expense of running an election that all primaries will move to August 23. I don’t have a Democratic primary challenge so regardless of when the primary occurs, I will be on the ballot in November.

What does this decision mean for getting candidates on the ballot?
Because the maps may change, this decision may mean that there will be a completely new petitioning process. I know we all worked incredibly hard to get me and other Democratic candidates back on the ballot already these past few months, but we may have to start all over again. Again, we do not know enough yet to know if that is the case. The judge could allow existing petitions to be resubmitted in the new districts. It is possible, though not certain, that candidates who did not get enough valid signatures to appear on the ballot could try to petition again, or that someone who didn’t submit petitions at all could now choose to run.

Will you still be my State Senator?
Since our district did not change at all in the State Senate maps drawn by the Legislature, I am hopeful there is a good chance that any new map would keep our district the same as well! I cannot say for sure, but I am very hopeful that everyone in Rockland and Westchester who I currently represent will remain in our new district and that with your support I’ll get to represent you again in Albany. 

What happens next?
The Steuben County judge has announced that the final maps from the special master must be submitted to him by May 20, after which he will approve a map for state senate and congressional districts. He will also have to make decisions about whether a new petition process will be required, and if so, how long it will take and how many signatures will be required.

Beyond that, there are still so many things we don’t know.

But I do know that Republicans are feeling extremely energized by the court’s decision to strike down the maps, and are certainly coming after this seat, so if you haven’t donated recently to support our campaign, please donate today!

That’s all for now – stay tuned.

All my best,