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Appellate panel hears arguments in latest New York redistricting challenge

Vaughn Golden
A case heard by an appellate court in Albany Thursday could reopen the door to redrawing New York's congressional maps.

Lawyers appeared before an appellate court in Albany Thursday for arguments in a lawsuit that could open the door for New York’s congressional maps to be redrawn again.

The lawsuit asks the courts to allow the state’s independent redistricting commission another chance to redraw congressional maps. The plaintiffs in the case are supported by the DCCC, Democrats’ national campaign arm.

A lower court judge flatly rejected that argument last year.

Their attorneys argue that the current, court-drawn congressional maps were an emergency remedy ahead of last year’s elections. They point out that the Court of Appeals didn’t stipulate in their decision tossing out the old maps, just how long the new ones should be in place.

That there was no timeframe on the remedial maps is an idea Justice Elizabeth Garry seemed receptive to during arguments.

"And so here we are with no statement as to duration, so awkward as it is for this court to be inferring, and you heard me ask the appellant’s counsel, that's what we're asked to do is to infer and look at the text of the law,” Garry said.

The GOP-backed defendants in the case argue that the remedial maps in place now are meant to be in place until the next census under statute.

The plaintiffs also argued that New York’s independent redistricting commission didn’t get a second chance to send draft maps to the legislature for approval, and therefore should have another opportunity to fulfill the constitutionally-prescribed process.

The redistricting commission deadlocked before approving any set of maps, spurring the legislature to go ahead and draw its own. The state’s highest court later tossed those maps out and a court drew the ones currently in place.

Jessica Ring Amunson is an attorney for the Democratic-appointed members of the redistricting commission. She faced questions from Justice Stan Pritzker, challenging her on the idea that the commission didn’t have a second chance to submit maps.

"The procedure is meant to ensure that the people that the IRC vested the power in to redraw these districts and who went around the entire state over a course of months to hear from people about how they wanted their communities to be represented, those are the people who should be doing the job of putting these districts in place," Amunson argued.

“Should,” Pritzker retorted. “But your group didn't. I mean, it would be better had you done it, but you didn't even submit a second map."

Unless the five-member appellate panel unanimously agrees to reject the case, it’s likely to be appealed to the Court of Appeals. The makeup of that panel has changed since it tossed out the congressional maps last year, meaning it’s quite possible it could open up the door for new maps.

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.