Over the last 48 hours, New York’s media, including The Politicker, has been breathlessly providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Senate Republicans’ and Assembly Democrats’ redistricting proposals, which were finally released around midnight last night. Candidates have been reacting strongly as well. One boldly declared a path to victory in last night’s maps, while another amazingly announced his intentions to buy a house in the new district.
However, the maps everyone is reacting to are not likely to relate at all to where the ultimate lines will fall.
First of all, even if the maps had any significant legal weight, it would be impossible to predict how the courts would resolve two opposing proposals.
Secondly, and more importantly, the maps have very little legal influence. One redistricting expert told The Politicker the maps are the equivalent of a “John Q. Public” map that literally anyone can submit to the court.
While some may point to a recent Supreme Court decision in Texas where it was ordered a court-drawn map “should take guidance from the state’s recently enacted plan,” the maps proposed last night, unlike Texas, were not the product of any legislative process whatsoever.
“You haven’t passed LATFOR. You haven’t passed a rules committee. You haven’t passed a chamber. These are just plans put forward, according to the filing, by three people each,” the expert explained.
In fact, the one set of maps that appears to have the most legal standing, assuming the Legislature can’t arrive at some last-minute compromise, is the Common Cause proposal, which the judge ordered other proposed maps compared to. However, the distinguishing feature of the Common Cause’s lines is the lack of protection for sitting Congressional Members while the distinguishing feature of last night’s proposals is a near-absolute adherence to incumbency protection.
This is something that the court is likely to notice. The redistricting expert said Nathaniel Persily, the man the judge is relying on to draft the maps, is extremely experienced and unlikely to just blindly accept gerrymanders placed before him.
“He won’t do that. He likes to draw something that has his own mark on it. Something that favors neither party and is based on objective standards,” he said of Mr. Persily.
Another redistricting expert agreed, telling The Politicker the courts are likely to try and draw their own objective plan as opposed to relying on partisan proposals.
“That is what special masters have tended to do in the past,” he explained, adding that the only way last night’s partisan proposals would have much of an impact is if they were specifically drawn to influence the thinking of the courts. But what tiny bits would hypothetically work their way into the final map is completely unpredictable.
Perhaps the greatest value from last night’s maps would come from reading tea leaves from the occasional similarities between the two. For example, both maps eliminate retiring Congressman Maurice Hinchey’s district, which could be indicative of the direction a compromise map between the State Assembly and State Senate would take, should the two bodies manage to pass a set of lines before the courts have finished intervening.
However, a political consultant involved in the process said the negotiations in Albany are extremely fluid, and change practically day by day, so even these rare tea leaves are of limited value.