A recurring theme in this space has been the ongoing legal and political battle over redistricting, the once-in-a-decade process where the congressional maps are redrawn. If the Democrats appeared to be faring better than expected for much of the year, the month of April has given Republicans a decisive advantage. 

On Wednesday, the New York Supreme Court struck down the maps drawn by the state’s Democrat-controlled legislature, delivering a significant blow to Democrats’ hopes to hold on to the House — both for this cycle and for the decade to come. 

In a 32-page opinion, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said that the “enactment of the congressional and senate maps by the legislature was procedurally unconstitutional, and the congressional map is also substantively unconstitutional as drawn with impermissible partisan purpose.”

The opinion also criticized Democrats for “fail[ing] to follow” a new redistricting process created by a 2014 amendment to the State Constitution, which was designed to avoid partisan political influence by putting control in the hands of an Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC). 

Last month, redistricting experts credited New York’s aggressively gerrymandered map with giving the Democrats an estimated three additional House seats, a significant national victory at a time when the Democrats hold a slim congressional majority. The map, which was adopted in February, was the result of a long saga that saw the breakdown of the independent commission process. 

Late last year, in its first redistricting cycle since the 2014 amendment, New York’s Independent Redistricting Commission failed to find consensus. It ended up sending two dueling sets of maps — one favored by Democrats and the other by Republicans — to the state legislature for consideration. Without clear guidance from the Commission, the Democrat-led legislature took back control of the process, drawing the maps that were ultimately struck down on Wednesday. Now, a court-appointed “special master” will draft replacement lines. 

Wednesday’s decision was met with euphoria by national Republicans and devastation by national Democrats. But it also reignited a good faith debate among academics and advocates of good government: if redistricting in blue states is taken out of the hands of Democratic majorities, but red states continue to gerrymander aggressively, does that amount to unilateral disarmament for Democrats?

Nick Seabrook, a political science professor at the University of North Florida and the author of One Person, One Vote, commended the New York State Supreme Court, tweeting on Wednesday, “Good to see that the NY courts have been willing to set aside partisanship and uphold the right of the people to fair maps free from unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering. Hopefully the justices on the FL Supreme Court will be able to do the same.” 

But if the Democrat-appointed judges on New York’s highest court were willing to strike down a partisan gerrymander, judges in Republican-controlled states may not be so eager. That’s a particularly urgent question in Florida, where last week, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis approved a new map that dramatically favors Republicans. DeSantis’ map created 20 seats that lean Republican and just eight that lean Democratic. (Former President Trump carried Florida in 2020 with 51.2% of the vote, but under the new map, the GOP is likely to hold over 71% of the total seats.)

Dave Wasserman, of the Cook Political Report, told CAFE in early March that “Democrats ha[d] caught almost all of the breaks” in the redistricting process. But this week, Wasserman tweeted that “NY’s top court has turned Dems’ 2022 House outlook from terrible to potentially horrific.” In a separate tweet, he wrote: “Shorter 2022 redistricting: it’s permissible to brazenly gerrymander in some states (mostly red), but not others (mostly blue). As long as that’s true, you’re not going to end up with a ‘fair’ or ‘equitable’ national House map.”

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