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New York Democrats move to limit "judge shopping" in redistricting challenges

This is the NY-22 map approved by NYS lawmakers. It is unchanged from what was presented by the IRC.
This is the NY-22 map approved by NYS lawmakers. It is unchanged from what was presented by the IRC.

When Democrats in the legislature approved the new Congressional district lines, they also okayed legislation to limit the practice of judge shopping when someone wants to file suit in a redistricting challenge. Republicans, who are in the minority party, say the measure is retribution for their successful suit that resulted in the 2022 congressional lines drawn by democrats being struck down.

The bill, approved in both houses, limits any future legal challenges to district lines drawn by the legislature in the future to just four counties. They are Albany, Erie, New York County, which encompasses Manhattan, and Westchester.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says the counties are all seats of the state’s judicial departments, and may have more expertise to draw on to hear the cases.

“We just feel that those are the four jurisdictions that are best equipped to handle these type of cases,” Heastie said.

All of those counties are dominated by democrats, including the Supreme Court judges who preside over the courts.

Republican Assembly Minority Leader Pro Temp, Andy Goodell, during debate, accused democrats of changing the rules because they lost a major court battle on redistricting in 2022.

“So, this bill says, if you want to stand up for the Constitution of the State of New York, you can only do it in four counties. How is that consistent with our oath of office?” Goodell said. “Are we afraid of allowing the courts to easily consider a constitutional challenge? Are we afraid because the last time they looked at it, they ruled it was unconstitutional?”

Republicans filed a challenge in Steuben County, a rural region dominated by GOP lawmakers and judges. That lawsuit eventually led to the democratic- drawn lines being thrown out by the state’s highest court for unconstitutional gerrymandering. The lines were redrawn by a court appointed special master, and are believed to have contributed to democrats losing four seats to republicans that year, helping the GOP gain control of the House.

Assembly Sponsor Bill Magnarelli says the change is not about political parties, but is instead about streamlining the process. He says the state already imposes those limits on election law challenges.

Magnarelli says it would also prevent anyone from taking advantage by filing a lawsuit where they believe a judge may be more sympathetic to their argument.

“This is a way to curtail shopping for a judge,” Magnarelli said. “Here you wouldn't be able to do that. You go to a certain place, you know where to go, and the administrative law judge would then pick the judge that has to preside over that case”.

GOP Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, says the bill actually does the opposite of that.

“With all due respect, it appears that this bill is doing the shopping for us,” Walsh said. “This bill is is choosing those four counties where you're going to be drawing from”.

The bill next goes to Governor Kathy Hochul, who can sign or veto it.

Hochul spokesman Avi Small, in a statement just before the Assembly voted on the measure, said only that the governor “will review the legislation if it passes both houses."

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment and interviews newsmakers. Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.