Progressives on Thursday expressed hope that a ruling by a state appeals court in New York will give the Democratic Party an opportunity to regain control of several U.S. House seats that were won by Republicans in last year’s midterm elections following what critics called an “undemocratic process” of drawing the state congressional map.
The appellate division of the state Supreme Court sided on Thursday with the Democratic Party, which had argued in a lawsuit that the district map that was drawn for the 2022 midterms was only meant to be temporary.
The current map was drawn last year by a special master who had been appointed by the state Supreme Court after it ruled that Democrats had unfairly gerrymandered the previous map. That ruling took the responsibility for redistricting out of the hands of the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC).
The five-judge panel on Thursday voted 3-2 in favor of ordering the IRC to “commence its duties forthwith” and redraw the state map.
If it stands, the ruling is set to give the New York Legislature, which is dominated by Democrats, final say over the state’s 26 U.S. House districts in the coming years. The party could retake as many as six seatscurrently held by Republicans who won their elections last year, including U.S. Rep. Mike Lawler in the 17th District and Rep. George Santos in the 3rd District.
Marc Elias of the voting rights group Democracy Docket called the ruling a “huge victory” for fair districting.
U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said the ruling presents the party with an opportunity to retake seats it lost after “the current congressional map was drawn by an unelected, out-of-town special master appointed by an extreme right-wing judge, who himself was handpicked by partisan political operatives,” referring to Judge Patrick McAllister of the state Supreme Court.
“It’s important that the Independent Redistricting Commission get to work expeditiously and present a map that fairly reflects the racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, and socioeconomic diversity of our great state,” said Jeffries.
The special master-drawn map forced progressive former Rep. Mondaire Jones out of the 17th District and changed the district where grassroots organizer Rana Abdelhamid had been campaigning, pitting her against other progressives and forcing her to end her U.S. House bid. Jones announced earlier this month that he is running again in the 17th District.
The ruling handed down on Thursday “is huge and could have massive national implications,” said Abdelhamid.
Democrats could now win back enough seats in New York to offset losses that are expected in North Carolina, where the right-wing state Supreme Court earlier this year cleared the way for Republicans to redraw the state map.
Republican lawmakers said they will appeal Thursday’s ruling, which would give the state Court of Appeals the final word. The Court of Appeals has moved to the left in the last year, with liberal Judge Rowan Wilson—who dissented last year when the court rejected Democrats’ appeal of the appointment of the special master—having replaced former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore.
Organizer Victor Shi called the appellate division’s ruling a “victory for anyone who cares about democracy and voting rights.”
“The right to participate in the democratic process is the most essential right in our system of governance,” said the court. “The procedures governing the redistricting process, all too easily abused by those who would seek to minimize the voters’ voice and entrench themselves in the seats of power, must be guarded as jealously as the right to vote itself; in granting this petition, we return the matter to its constitutional design.”