On April 27, 2022, the New York State Court of Appeals invalidated the Congressional and State Senate redistricting plans that had been approved by the New York State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Kathy Hochul in February 2022.[1] This decision was the first time the Court of Appeals interpreted the provisions of the independent redistricting amendment to the New York State Constitution.

In 2014, the voters of New York approved an “anti-gerrymandering” amendment to the New York State Constitution.[2] This amendment came after independent redistricting advocates, including, most notably, former New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch, sharply criticized the 2010-2012 New York State redistricting process.[3] The 2014 amendment to the New York State Constitution made substantive as well as procedural changes to the process of drawing new district maps for the State Assembly, State Senate, and U.S. House of Representatives. Among other provisions, the 2014 amendment enacted new anti-gerrymandering standards in the New York State Constitution, established a new Independent Redistricting Commission, and set forth a new process for the State Assembly and State Senate to consider proposed maps.[4]

On February 3, 2022, Governor Kathy Hochul signed into law new State Assembly, State Senate, and U.S. House maps for New York State.[5] On the same day the new maps were signed into law, the petitioners challenged them in New York State Supreme Court, Steuben County.[6] The petitioners — voters residing in a number of congressional and state legislative districts throughout New York State—argued that the new maps—specifically the congressional and state senate maps—violated the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the state constitution and that the New York State Legislature had violated the process for considering new maps that was set forth in the state constitution.

The Court of Appeals held that the process for adopting the State Legislative and U.S. House of Representatives district maps was in violation of the state constitution.[7] Under the 2014 amendment, the redistricting process begins with the Independent Redistricting Commission, a bipartisan entity whose members are appointed by the party leaders in the New York State Legislature and whose staff is appointed in a bipartisan manner outlined in the state constitution.[8] The IRC prepares and proposes an initial redistricting plan to the New York State Legislature; if this plan, which may not be amended by the New York State Legislature, is rejected by the New York State Legislature, the IRC is charged with proposing a second plan to the New York State Legislature.[9] Only if the second redistricting plan as proposed by the IRC is rejected by the New York State Legislature may the New York State Legislature then propose and vote on its own redistricting plan.[10] This constitutionally mandated process, according to the majority of the Court of Appeals, was not followed for the 2022 redistricting.

Initially, the IRC and the New York State Legislature followed the State Constitution’s mandated redistricting process. Because the IRC was unable to make a redistricting plan that garnered the votes of a majority of its members, it sent two sets of maps—one backed by the Democratic members of the IRC and one backed by the Republican members—to the New York State Legislature for consideration; the New York State Legislature rejected these maps.[11] After the rejection of the first set of maps, the IRC and the New York State Legislature deviated from the constitution’s redistricting process. Instead of proposing and submitting a second set of maps for the New York State Legislature to consider, the IRC announced its members could not come to an agreement and would not submit any maps to the New York State Legislature.[12] Without input or recommendation from the IRC, new maps were then proposed and approved by each house of the New York State Legislature, and those maps were signed into law by Governor Hochul.[13] This process was found by the Court of Appeals to violate the procedural requirements of the 2014 constitutional amendment.

Additionally, the Court of Appeals held that the congressional district map violated the substantive anti-gerrymandering provisions of the state constitution.[14] The 2014 anti-gerrymandering amendment prohibited maps drawn to “discourage competition or for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents or other particular candidates or political parties.”.[15] In its decision, the Court of Appeals held that the evidence presented by the petitioners and the record supported the petitioners’ argument “that the 2022 congressional map was drawn to discourage competition.”[16]

To remedy the violations of the 2014 anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendment, the Court of Appeals determined that this matter should be remitted to Supreme Court, Steuben County, and that the trial court, with the assistance of a special master, should adopt new State Senate and U.S. House maps that comported with the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the State Constitution.[17]

Three judges of the Court of Appeals—Judge Shirley Troutman, Judge Rowan Wilson, and Judge Jenny Rivera—dissented from the majority opinion. Judge Troutman, in her partial dissent, agreed with the majority that the constitutional process in adopting maps was not followed.[18] But she argued that the remedy to this violation of the state constitution should be to send the matter back to the New York State legislature and have it “adopt either of the two plans that the IRC has already approved pursuant to section 5-b(g)” of Article III of the state constitution.[19] On the issue of the U.S. House map being unconstitutionally gerrymandered, Judge Troutman argued that the Court of Appeals should have never sought to answer that question once it determined that the constitutional process of redistricting had not been followed. Addressing the issue of gerrymandering, Judge Troutman argued, is no different than the court issuing an advisory opinion.

In his dissent, Judge Wilson argued that the petitioners had not met their burden to demonstrate that the 2022 congressional map enacted into law violated the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the state constitution. While he didn’t doubt that the petitioners could demonstrate that at least some of the newly created districts are unconstitutionally gerrymandered, he did not believe they had done so.[20] In addition, Judge Wilson did not agree with the majority’s decision to allow the trial court, with the assistance of a special master, to draw constitutionally permissible state senate and congressional districts; like Judge Troutman, he believed that a proper remedy would be to give the New York State Legislature another opportunity to enact constitutionally permissible districts.[21]

Finally, Judge Rivera, in her dissent, argued that the petitioners had not proven that the congressional districts at issue were unconstitutionally gerrymandered, and that no violation of the constitutional redistricting process occurred in the adoption of new maps in 2022. On the procedural issue, Judge Rivera argued that because the IRC initially submitted two plans to the New York State Legislature, the constitutional requirement that the New York State Legislature reject two proposals before creating and voting upon its own was in fact met.[22] Judge Rivera also argued that the majority permitted members of the IRC to hold “the legislature hostage” and play “political games[]” by refusing to submit redistricting plans to the New York State Legislature for approval or rejection.[23] The majority’s interpretation of the constitutional process, Judge Rivera argued, “places the redistricting process at the mercy of the IRC.”[24] This was not the intent of the 2014 constitutional amendment. On the substantive anti-gerrymandering issue, Judge Rivera, much like Judge Wilson in his dissent, argued that the “petitioners failed to meet their heavy burden.”[25]

The Harkenrider decision was the first time the New York State Court of Appeals had the opportunity to interpret the new independent redistricting provisions of the state constitution. It will undoubtedly be analyzed by future leaders of the New York State Legislature and Independent Redistricting Commission in the years ahead.


[1] Harkenrider v. Hochul, 38 N.Y.3d 494 (2022).

[2] NY Const. art III, sec. 4(b); sec. 5; sec. 5-b.

[3] Jon Campbell, ‘Designed to Fail’ — NY’s Redistricting Mess Was A Decade In The Making,, Gothamist, Feb. 3, 2022, https://gothamist.com/news/designed-to-fail-nys-redistricting-mess-was-a-decade-in-the-making.

[4] Harkenrider, 38 N.Y. 3d at 503-04.

[5] Id. at 505.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at 521.

[8] NY Const. art III, sec. 5-b

[9] Harkenrider, 38 N.Y. 3d at 511.

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at 504.

[12] Id. at 504-505.

[13] Id. at 505.

[14] Id. at 521.

[15] NY Const. art III, sec. 4(c)(5).

[16] Harkenrider, 38 N.Y. 3d at 520.

[17] Id. at 524.

[18] Id. at 525.

[19] Id.

[20] Id. at 546.

[21] Id.

[22] Id. at 548-49.

[23] Id. at 549.

[24] Id. at 551.

[25] Id. at 553.

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