How much gerrymandering is too much? In New York, the answer could make or break House Democrats’ hopes

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – The New York Supreme Court last week gave A chance for Democrats to redraw the state’s congressional districts, a major victory as the party tries to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives next year.

The question now is how far the state’s Democratic-dominated Legislature will try to expand the boundaries in key battleground states to give their party an edge, and how far the courts will let them.

The trial will be closely watched for any signs of partisan gerrymandering — drawing lines that give one side an unfair advantage — which is prohibited by state law. Republicans are expected to challenge the results in court as they try to retain their slim majority in the House of Representatives.

But experts say it’s unclear where the state’s highest court will land on determining what is too biased.

“There is no hard and fast definition or clear line that defines partisan gerrymandering,” said Jeffrey Weiss, a professor at New York Law School who focuses on gerrymandering. “There’s really no bright line to tell when a plan becomes too much partisan gerrymandering.” This is often based on a panel of experts and the judges’ decision.

Part of the uncertainty in New York stems from a ruling by the state’s highest court last year when threw out congressional cards drawn by Democrats who were criticized for oddly drawn lines that crammed the state’s Republican voters into several super districts.

In that decision, the court focused more on questions about the procedural steps Democrats took to draw the lines, and devoted just a few paragraphs to whether the districts violated the state’s gerrymandering ban.

Instead, it upheld lower court rulings that found “clear evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt that the congressional map was unconstitutionally drawn with political bias” and that “the 2022 congressional map was drawn to discourage competition and to favor Democrats,” based on testimony and analysis of previous maps.

The court then appointed a special master to draw a new set of congressional lines for the last election, which, along with strong GOP turnout and dissatisfaction with Democratic policies, led to the Republican reversible seats in the suburbs of New York and winning control of the House.

After the election, Democrats sued to throw out the court-drawn maps, arguing that the bipartisan state redistricting commission should get another chance to draw congressional lines. The court agreed in a ruling last week.

The new maps will first go to committee before the Legislature has a chance to approve or change the lines.

Richard Briffault, a law professor at Columbia Law School with extensive experience in redistricting and government, said he thinks Democrats may be careful to avoid another lengthy legal battle before the election.

“My guess is they’re going to be more careful,” Briffault said. “It would certainly be wise for them to be more careful and not be too aggressive because they will certainly be sued.”

Democrats had already earmarked the state as a battleground state for the House next year. The party has targeted six seats it wants to flip in New York, with those potential pickups flipping or even exceeding the expected loss of at least three North Carolina districts after Republican there.

Meanwhile, redistricting lawsuits continue in several other states, including Florida, Georgia and Louisiana, where Democrats hope to make gains. Democrats are also expected to pick up a seat in Alabama, where districts were redrawn after federal judges ruled that the original map drawn up by Republican state officials illegally reduced the voting rights of black residents.

“The parties are fighting these district-by-district battles in courtrooms across the country that are designed to give Democrats a better chance at the starting gate,” Weiss said. “Every court victory means a lot.”

New York’s redistricting commission has been tasked with submitting a map to the state legislature by February 28. But Republicans are already complaining.

“For all their rhetoric about protecting democracy, we see what happened here in New York,” said John Faso, a former congressman who advises other Republicans on redistricting. “Democrats don’t want to win districts in elections. They want to win them in the back rooms of Albany.

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