In setback for Democrats, New York judge casts new Congress card

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March 31 (Reuters) – A New York state judge on Thursday rejected the state’s Democratic-backed new congressional map as unconstitutional and ordered lawmakers to redraw the lines, a move that could significantly hurt party’s chances of retaining control of the US Congress in the November elections.

Steuben County Supreme Court Judge Patrick McAllister said the map violated a constitutional provision that districts should not be chosen to favor one political party over another.

The map, passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul in February, gave the party the edge in 22 of the state’s 26 districts, analysts said. Democrats currently hold 19 of 27 districts, and the state will lose one seat this year due to weak population growth.

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The plan helped offset Republican-skewed maps in states such as Texas and Georgia and went a long way to erase what was initially expected to be a difficult national redistricting cycle for Democrats.

Democratic leaders, including Hochul and state Attorney General Letitia James, said they would appeal the decision.

“It’s a step in the process,” said Mike Murphy, spokesman for the Democratic majority in the Senate. “We always knew that this case would be decided by the courts of appeal.”

In an 18-page decision, McAllister, a Republican, set April 11 as the deadline for a new map and said he would hire an expert to draw one if the legislature failed to reach a bipartisan compromise.

New York’s primary election is scheduled for June 28, and McAllister acknowledged that an expertly drawn map may not be completed in time for this year’s election.

Under US law, states must redraw the lines of Congress and legislation every ten years to account for changing demographics. In most states, lawmakers control the process, allowing parties to manipulate lines for partisan advantage in a practice known as gerrymandering.

Thursday’s decision is the second redistricting setback for Democrats in the space of a week. Last Friday, a court in Maryland launched a new map drawn by Democrats as an illegal gerrymander.

Judges in Ohio, North Carolina and Pennsylvania have previously struck down Republican-favored cards.

Democrats currently hold a 222-210 advantage in the US House of Representatives, with three vacancies. Opinion polls suggest Republicans are favored to regain a majority in the House in November, which would allow them to block much of Democratic President Joe Biden’s agenda.

On a conference call with reporters, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, co-chair of the National Republican Redistricting Trust, which supports Republican redistricting efforts, said New York Democrats should be “ashamed of them themselves for what they tried to do here”.

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Reporting by Joseph Axe; Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein and Nate Raymond Editing by Bill Berkrot and Rosalba O’Brien

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