James, Hochul urge court to order independent redistricting commission to redraw Congressional district lines

Governor Kathy Hochul seen with Attorney General Letitia James
Governor Kathy Hochul seen with Attorney General Letitia James, announces new developments in a multi-pronged effort to combat wage theft and protect the paychecks of hardworking New Yorkers.
Don Pollard / Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

New York Attorney General Letitia James and Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday filed an amicus brief in support of efforts to redraw New York’s Congressional district lines rather than leaving the lines drawn by a court-appointed special master in place between now and the 2030 census.

The state’s Independent Redistricting Commission’s (IRC) maps were rejected by the legislature, and the congressional maps drafted afterwards were challenged in the courts, resulting in a special master drawing lines ahead of the 2022 Election.

In the brief, filed in the Appellate Division, Third Department, James and Hochul assert that while the special master’s maps may have been appropriate for the 2022 Election, there is significant time for IRC to generate new maps and follow the process outlined in the New York State Constitution for Congressional maps going forward.

“Our state’s Constitution makes it clear that an independent body, with participation from the general public, is charged with drawing maps for Congressional districts,” said Attorney General James. “Relying on a process with no accountability and with limited time for public input is not how we engage the public and ensure their interests are addressed throughout this process.

“I am committed to ensuring our electoral process is as transparent as possible and that we follow the process outlined in our Constitution,” she added. “New Yorkers deserve free and fair elections, and to have a say in how their communities will be represented in Congress.”

“I am committed to protecting the rights of all New Yorkers to fully participate in our electoral system,” said Hochul. “We are urging the court to support the Constitutionally-protected process in order to ensure accountability and fairness for New York voters.”

The IRC was charged with generating district maps for the State Assembly, State Senate and New York’s US House of Representative districts.

Following the 2020 census, IRC was unable to submit maps following the process spelled out in the State Constitution, and the State Senate and State Assembly instead drew districts which were signed into law on Feb. 3, 2022.

The Congressional electoral maps were challenged, and eventually thrown out by the state’s Court of Appeals on April 27, 2022.

Given the short time frame ahead of the 2022 election, a special master was appointed by the trial court, which first heard the challenge against the electoral maps, and new lines were generated.

In their amicus brief, James and Hochul note that the State Constitution is clear that the State Legislature must have the opportunity to remedy electoral maps found to be invalid by a court.

They also note that since the problem that led the Court of Appeals to approve the involvement of a special master — the short time to impose new electoral maps, with only months to go before the 2022 primary elections — no longer exists, the electoral maps drawn by the special master should not be used for the remainder of the decade.

To address this problem, the amicus brief urges the Appellate Division to reverse the lower court order rejecting the voters’ claim and to order IRC to draw and submit a new congressional map as required by the Constitution.

James has been at the forefront of fighting for New Yorkers’ rights to have free and fair elections, and to ensure their voices are heard in the halls of power.

In March, Attorney General James won a lawsuit against conspiracy theorists who attempted to intimidate Black voters through threatening robocalls.

James also maintains a voter resources webpage and, during early voting and election day, staffs an election hotline to protect New Yorkers’ rights at the polls.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, James called for automatic absentee voting to help protect voters’ rights and health, and following the November election, Attorney General James issued an alert to ensure absentee voters were aware of their rights in case there was an issue with their ballots.