A New York judge said Thursday he will allow the state’s 2022 election process to proceed, despite an ongoing legal challenge over whether Democrats drew new congressional and legislative district lines to their party’s benefit.
But the judge cautioned that if Republicans are victorious, New Yorkers would be asked to vote for congressional representatives in three consecutive years.
Attorneys for Democrats and Republicans gathered in state Supreme Court in Steuben County for a hearing on a GOP-backed lawsuit seeking to invalidate the state’s new congressional and state Senate lines, which the Democrat-led state Legislature approved last month. The lawsuit is the latest episode in a protracted conflict over the redistricting process — one that began with the failure of a bipartisan commission to agree on new electoral maps.
Acting Supreme Court Justice Patrick McAllister handed Republicans a series of procedural wins early in the hearing, declining the Democrats’ bid to have the lawsuit dismissed and ordering them to produce evidence during the discovery process.
But McAllister declined to step in and halt this year’s election while the lawsuit battle plays out, saying it would risk leaving New York without proper congressional representation. Instead, he plans to leave the maps in place for this year – and raised the possibility that a new election could be ordered next year if the GOP successfully proves the Democrats illegally gerrymandered the lines.
"I believe the more prudent course would be to permit the current election process to proceed and then, if necessary, require new elections next year if new maps need to be redrawn," said McAllister, a Republican.
The scenario laid out by the judge would mean New Yorkers would be asked to vote for congressional representatives – who are elected to two-year terms – in 2022, 2023 and 2024. But it would be contingent on the GOP’s lawsuit being successful and surviving any subsequent appeals.
Petitioning to get on the 2022 ballot is already underway. Candidates have until April 7 to file the proper number of petition signatures to secure their spot in the primary elections, set for June 28. Had McAllister paused the petitioning process, it could have thrown the electoral cycle into chaos.
The judge acknowledged that Republicans have a “high bar” to prove that Democrats acted unconstitutionally in drawing the maps, which gave their party an edge in 22 of the state’s 26 districts, based on 2020 presidential election results.
John Faso, a former Republican congressman from the Hudson Valley who is helping lead the party’s efforts against the new maps, said he still wants the courts to block the district lines from taking effect in this year’s elections, though McAllister clearly cast doubt on that.
The judge ordered a March 14 hearing where the Republican and Democratic attorneys will present their top experts to make the case for and against the district maps.
“My preference would be to stay the districts this year, but that’s going to be up to the court,” Faso said.
At least one of McAllister’s rulings Thursday is likely to be appealed. Craig Bucki, an attorney representing legislative Democrats, suggested his clients will likely challenge the judge’s ruling requiring them to provide discovery evidence to the Republican attorneys, which the GOP hopes could help prove that Democrats acted in their own favor.
Bucki claimed legislators should have “legislative privilege,” which limits what information can be demanded of them when they are carrying out official duties.
Along with the Democratic leaders of the state Legislature, Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul – who signed the new maps into law – is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. The state Attorney General’s Office tried to make the case that Hochul should be dismissed from the case, but McAllister disagreed.
Faso said the discovery evidence – which could include documents and correspondence between Democrats and the bipartisan redistricting commission – could help prove their case.
“It’s very clear that they (Democrats) used partisan political information to craft these lines,” Faso said.