Earlier today, the New York State Senate Democrats asked the court currently enacting the state’s new Congressional redistricting plan to consider expanding their efforts and, at the very least, draw up their own maps for the State Senate as well.
They made two core arguments about the need for this legal action in their letter to the court.
“First, the Legislature’s plan is subject to preclearance by the Department of Justice pursuant to section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a process that can take up to 60 days,” the wrote, referring to the required process of federal review for some counties in New York like the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn.
Next, they argued the redistricting lawsuit the Senate Democrats filed against the increase in size of the State Senate adds enough uncertainty into the process that a contingency plan is needed:
“Second, as described in more detail below, the Legislature’s addition of a 63rd Senate seat violates Article III, Section 4 of the New York Constitution and will be challenged in state court. If the Legislature’s 63-seat plan is blocked either by the Department of Justice or by a state court, then the federal Constitution will require this Court to develop and implement a lawful Senate plan because it is undisputed that the current districts (which were drawn in 2002) do not comply with the federal one person, one vote rule.”
Of course, if the 63rd seat is struck down, the Legislature could always theoretically move to pass a new redistricting plan with 62 seats. However, the Senate Democrats’ lawyers contend there might not be enough time, creating the need for the federal redistricting court to make a decision on the issue even as its being currently litigated in a completely different court.
“We recognize that this is the very same issue that we will be litigating in state court. But as we have explained, it is this Court—not the state judiciary—that is primarily responsible for enforcing the federal Constitution,” the letter argues. “And nobody can assure this Court that the state courts will rule on the constitutionality of the 63rd district before it is too late for this Court to enforce the Equal Protection Clause.”
The letter concludes by saying “We acknowledge that this is a highly unusual procedural posture,” and, “We are aware of no case in which any federal court has ever been asked to address a threshold state constitutional question regarding the size of the legislative body to be redistricted.”
How much change the court would enact on the existing plan in this extremely hypothetical scenario is unknown. While there was a Supreme Court decision in Texas where it was ordered a court-drawn map “should take guidance from the state’s recently enacted plan,” there could be a lot of leeway for change when the total number of districts changes as well.
View the full letter below: