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Last Wednesday, the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, ruled that the redistricting map Democrats had so carefully drawn that gave them three additional congressional seats as well as effectively destroying the Republican Party in the state was illegal.
Until that moment, the national Democratic Party had been patting itself on the back for stealing a march on Republicans. When the redistricting process began late in 2021, it was widely assumed that the Republicans, with their legislative control of 26 states and the addition of three seats as a result of the census in red states, would have a distinct advantage in redistricting.
But until recently, Democrats had been more than holding their own, largely because of New York’s map — a masterpiece of gerrymandering.
On Wednesday, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the congressional map New York Democrats enacted back in February was a partisan gerrymander that violated the state constitution and tossed it to the curb. The decision was a huge blow to Democrats, who until recently looked like they had gained enough seats nationally in redistricting to almost eliminate the Republican bias in the House of Representatives. But with the invalidation of New York’s map, as well as Florida’s recent passage of a congressional map that heavily favors the GOP,1 the takeaways from the 2021-22 redistricting cycle are no longer so straightforward.
That’s because much of Democrats’ national redistricting advantage rested on their gerrymander in New York. The now-invalidated map included 20 seats with a FiveThirtyEight partisan lean2 of D+5 or bluer and only four seats with a partisan lean of R+5 or redder. It also included two swing seats, but even those had slight Democratic leans (D+3 and D+4).
Democrats were expected to win 22 of New York’s 26 House seats (85%) under the map. They would have maintained their supermajority in the senate. And Republicans in the state would have been relegated to nearly third-party status.
But Biden only won 61% of the presidential vote in New York. Shouldn’t Republicans have representation roughly equal to their influence on the vote?
Related: Is New York Shifting Red?
A special “master” will now draw the lines in New York. In truth, New York is a very blue state and Democrats will still be given an advantage when the master draws the districts. But the chances are good that at least one or two GOP leaning districts — R+5 or better — will be created and perhaps one or two more swing districts — D+5 or worse — will emerge.
Those heady gains and losses were the foundation for the big national gains Democrats had run up about a month ago. As of March 30, redistricting had added 11 districts to the “Democratic-leaning” (D+5 or bluer) column nationally (compared with the maps that were in place in 2020) and subtracted six districts from the “Republican-leaning” column (R+5 or redder). Today, though, Democrats are up only seven districts, and Republicans are no longer down at all — they’ve actually added one Republican-leaning seat.
The process isn’t complete. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis, drew a masterpiece of Republican gerrymandering that will almost certainly be modified by the courts. And there are a few other challenges that have yet to be resolved.
The bottom line is that, at least with redistricting, Republicans will once again have an advantage in 2022.