District drama: What happens now that a judge has thrown out political maps drawn by Albany?

Who will be your next representative in Albany or Washington? It depends on what neighborhood you live in – and that… remains to be seen.

Ahead of the general election in November, New Yorkers are expected to vote in the party’s primaries on June 28. Because the city is so blue, few seats, either federal or state, are truly up for grabs in the fall. The primary is when most electoral choices are really made.

But the process is now in limbo, thanks to a court decision Thursday that laid out the political district lines, collectively known as the maps, New York lawmakers had approved earlier this year.

These maps have already taken into account some major political decisions.

For example, State Senator Alessandra Biaggi had previously launched a campaign for a new congressional seat that combined parts of her district in the Bronx and Westchester with Queens and Long Island. In Brooklyn and Staten Island, former Congressman Max Rose is running again for his old seat, which was redesigned to include super-liberal Park Slope.

And now? There are a lot of variables. So we spoke to election law experts to find out what New Yorkers should know about the redistricting chaos right now.

What happened to political maps and what’s next?

The maps at issue here were approved by the Democratic-controlled state legislature and Governor Kathy Hochul on Feb. 3. Shortly after, state Republican-backed voters prosecutedclaiming that the maps were gerrymandered and, therefore, unconstitutional.

State Supreme Court Justice Patrick McAllister in Steuben County on Thursday ruled in favor of the GOP, saying the card’s challengers had proven “beyond reasonable doubt that the card was enacted with a political bias”. (Reminder: in New York, the “Supreme Court” is the lowest legal level for judges; the Court of Appeals is the highest.)

He ordered the legislator to draw up new maps before April 11.

The Senate and State Assembly have already filed documents to appeal, triggering an automatic stay or pause of the judge’s decision.

This means that the new maps just drawn by the legislature are still in effect until the next stage of the appeals process.

Legal experts say the court’s Appeals Division, Fourth Department – which will hear the case next – is likely to resume this as soon as possible, given the urgency of the case.

“That would be a very high priority item for the Fourth Department,” said New York City election attorney Sarah Steiner, who has represented local candidates from both parties, as well as independents.

Remind me: how did we get these cards?

Albany lawmakers had created new political boundaries for Senate and Assembly districts in the state, as well as seats in Congress, based on 2020 population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. The process takes place every 10 years in each of the 50 states.

This time in New York, the process was meant to be more fair, independent and less partisan. That was the goal of a 2014 constitutional amendment anyway that created an independent redistricting commission to create maps in a bipartisan manner.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, August 24, 2021.
Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor

But the IRC released dueling cards split along partisan lines, then failed to come up with another one before the deadline set by the state constitution.

Eventually, cartography returned to the legislature after the failure of the ostensibly “independent” commission.

In early 2022, both state legislative houses created the maps we have today and Governor Kathy Hochul signed them.

Aren’t the candidates already in the running for the June primary? What happens to them?

Yes, many potential candidates are preparing to run for office within the same political borders that are squabbling in the courts.

For weeks, they applied to be put on the ballot, a cumbersome process that involved collecting hundreds of signatures from voters and then submitting them to the state Board of Elections for approval.

Senator Alessandra Biaggi speaks about the horrific conditions she witnessed on Rikers Island during a rally outside the prison complex on Monday, September 13, 2021.

Senator Alessandra Biaggi is running for Congress in a district that is in limbo. September 13, 2021.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

According to the BOE’s political calendar, candidates must submit these petition signatures between Monday, April 4 and Thursday, April 7.

For now, Steiner advises its candidate clients to go ahead and submit their signatures as if the current cards hold. That’s because the suspension, or court recess, that accompanied McAlluster’s appeal of the ruling means that the political calendar is still in effect and the petition is moving forward — for now.

What is the most likely outcome for the cards?

Every expert we spoke to said the same thing: they think the most likely scenario is that McAllister’s decision will be overturned by a higher court, and the final maps and main timeline will remain.

Jeff Wice, a New York Law School professor and a veteran of two previous redistricting processes in New York, said the precedent for the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, is that they have “always defer to the legislature and its judgment” on redistricting. Questions.

Attorney Jerry Goldfeder, also a veteran of election law, said the timing of the case doesn’t leave much room for change before the June primary.

“The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that changes to election laws should not be made on the eve of an election,” he said.

Steiner pointed out that if the courts ordered a map change, it would throw the election calendar into chaos — and any changes to the primary date or the ballot registration process would have to come from the legislature, not the courts.

“Do you really see the Legislature, which has all just gone through the petition with its cost of volunteering, its cost of time and its cost of money…. Do you really see them saying, ‘Oh, sure. Let’s do it again’?’ she asked.

OK, but what if the cards are discarded?

The possibility remains that the higher courts — either the Appeals Department or the Court of Appeals — will side with the Steuben County judge. From there, any number of things could happen, including the court ordering the legislature back to the drawing board.

If that happened, the political boundaries would shift again and the many candidates who have flocked to the races since the new maps emerged – or pulled out – would have to reconsider.

The way the maps are drawn has national implications. New York’s district lines could have a big impact on whether Democrats retain control of the House of Representatives.

It is also possible that a third party, and not the legislator, will be led by the courts to create new policy lines.

For example, McAllister indicated in his ruling that “if the legislator does not produce the lines he wants, he will appoint a special master to draw the lines,” Goldfeder said.

But it’s unclear whether a state Supreme Court justice has the power to do so.

“Whether a Supreme Court justice quotes, ‘likes’ or dislikes the lines is not the way this issue should be resolved,” Goldfeder said.

So what’s a voter – or potential candidate – to do?

Stay patient, experts say.

Candidates should proceed with petitioning and campaigning as usual. And all voters can do is wait and see because “we just don’t know,” Wice said.

“It’s best to take it one day and one step at a time,” he said.

It might not hurt to find out about some candidates running in districts adjacent to yours, just in case.

Goldfeder hopes everything will be resolved sooner rather than later — before voters become even less engaged.

“The unintended consequence here is that voters become more disenchanted with the politics involved and don’t know who their representatives will be,” he said. “So it really needs to be decided very quickly.”