The League was a strong supporter of the Constitutional amendment on redistricting that was approved by voters in 2014. That amendment established an Independent Redistricting Commission (“IRC”) and adopted a ban on partisan gerrymandering. The IRC initially submitted a set of maps that were rejected by the Legislature. The Constitutional amendment required the IRC to send a subsequent set of maps to the Legislature for a second up or down vote after the initial rejection, but the IRC failed to do so. The Legislature then adopted its own redistricting maps.
Republican voters sued to enjoin the Congressional and State Senate maps as unconstitutional under the 2014 Amendment. The lower court held a trial in March and found the Congressional map violated the new Constitutional provision against gerrymandering, and in addition voided that map as well as the State Senate and State Assembly maps because the redistricting procedure set forth in the Constitution was not followed.
The defendants appealed to the Appellate Division, Fourth Department. The League filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief with the Appellate Division that called for the Court to invalidate the Legislature’s electoral maps, as the constitutionally mandated process for redistricting was violated by both the IRC and the Legislature. The League argued in its brief that, as a result of the violation of the required process, the Constitutional amendment now requires that the New York courts, not the Legislature, draw the electoral maps.
The Appellate Division, by a plurality decision on April 21, 2021, rejected the State Supreme Court’s determination that the redistricting process had violated the Constitution, but held that the Congressional map violated the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Constitution, and ruled that the Legislature would be given until April 30 to enact a constitutional replacement for the Congressional map. The Appellate Division upheld the State Senate and State Assembly maps. One Justice dissented from the plurality opinion’s conclusion regarding the process, stating that the Justice “largely adopt[s] the well-reasoned analysis of the procedural issue offered in the amicus curiae brief filed by The League of Women Voters of New York State.”
The Appellate Division’s decision is being appealed to the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court. The League filed a supplemental amicus curiae brief with the Court of Appeals contesting certain conclusions in the Appellate Division decision, and arguing that the Constitution clearly provides for the Judiciary, not the Legislature, to remedy the violations of the process mandated by the 2014 Constitutional Amendment. The League further argued that the 2014 Amendment’s process was carefully designed to further substantive goals and values – accountability, deliberation, and some independence from the worst of the partisan political process – that should be respected by the Court. Our brief concluded:
“To be sure, [the amendment’s] carefully-specified process does not guarantee that the scourge of gerrymandering will be eliminated, but the Judiciary should give that framework a chance to work. The Court would thereby honor the promise of the amendment – an independent redistricting process that conduces to competitive elections rather than protection of incumbents or particular political parties.”
The Court of Appeals has set 11 a.m. on Tuesday, April 26 for oral argument. The oral argument will be livestreamed through a video-link at https://www.nycourts.gov/ctapps/live.html . In view of the extraordinary importance of this appeal and, in particular, the procedural process mandated by the 2014 Amendment to reduce partisan gerrymandering, the League’s counsel has requested that the Court permit it the opportunity to provide oral argument on Tuesday. We encourage all interested members to watch the livestream of the oral argument for this historic case on Tuesday.
You can read a copy of the League’s initial amicus brief at: https://lwvny.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Exhibit-A-Amicus-Brief.pdf and a copy of the League’s supplemental amicus brief at https://lwvny.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/LWV-CoA-Amicus-Letter-Brief-Final-042422.pdf