Top court strikes down congressional, state Senate maps, with profound implications for Brooklyn

redistricting maps
New York’s Court of Appeals officially tossed out new maps drawn by Albany Democrats on Wednesday, throwing upcoming elections into disarray.
File photo by Steve Solo

New York’s top court struck down the state’s new Congressional and state Senate district maps, on the grounds that they illegally gerrymandered for partisan purposes, throwing this year’s legislative races in Brooklyn into disarray.

In a 4-3 decision, the state Court of Appeals ruled that the maps drawn by Albany Democrats, who took the mantle after an independent commission failed to reach consensus, were drawn with an “impermissible” partisan bias and designed to discourage electoral competition, and ordered a nonpartisan court appointee, known as a “special master,” to draw new maps.

“The enactment of the congressional and senate maps by the legislature was procedurally unconstitutional,” the justices ruled. “And the congressional map is also substantively unconstitutional as drawn with impermissible partisan purpose, leaving the state without constitutional district lines for use in the 2022 primary and general elections.”

Because the maps were struck down so close to the June 28 primary, after candidates already circulated ballot petitions, the justices said the primaries for Congress and the state Senate may have to be pushed back as late as August.

The court did not strike down the state Assembly maps.

Complicating things further, the State Board of Elections told City & State that it hopes to “quickly develop” a new primary date for August for Congressional and state Senate races, but at present intends to keep Assembly primaries on June 28.

“Whatever adjustments need to be made to the ballot access process for candidates for Congress and state Senate for a new primary will be proposed to the court,” the board said. “We will do everything in our power to inform the electorate to ensure a fair and accurate election for the voters of New York.”

Perhaps nowhere will the ruling have a greater destabilizing effect for campaigns than in Brooklyn, where legislative Democrats exhaustively redrew political boundaries apparently intent on entrenching the Democratic Party’s hold on Congress and the state Senate.

For instance, Republican Nicole Malliotakis’ 11th Congressional District, based in Staten Island and a swath of southern Brooklyn, was redrawn to replace conservative areas of southern Brooklyn with more left-leaning areas like Park Slope and Sunset Park, evidently with the intent of complicating her path to reelection.

“The will of the people prevailed over the Corrupt Albany Machine in a tremendous victory for democracy, fair elections & the Constitution,” Malliotakis said on Twitter in response to the ruling.

nicole malliotakis district maps
Nicole Malliotakis, the Republican incumbent in NY-11, cheered the court’s decision to toss the maps, which would have threatened her seat in Congress. File photo by Andrew Kelly/REUTERS

Meanwhile, Brittany Ramos DeBarros, who is running in the Democratic primary aiming to replace Malliotakis, said that the campaign will go on no matter where district lines fall.

“We launched our campaign for New York’s 11th Congressional District before any lines were decided because it wasn’t about lines, it’s about representing the people,” a campaign spokesperson said. “We are the only campaign that has support from a broad coalition across NY-11, in Brooklyn AND Staten Island. We are a grassroots campaign fighting to represent a community that’s ready for a representative that invests in us.”

Former Rep. Max Rose, who is also running in the Democratic primary, echoed that he expects to win no matter the district boundaries.

“I’m going to win whatever the lines end up being,” Rose said in a statement. “And our campaign will never stop focusing on making our city and country more affordable, safe and fair.”

In the state Senate, the Bay Ridge-centered 22nd district’s borders had been redrawn seemingly to entrench incumbent Democrat Andrew Gounardes in a historically swing district. Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Diane Savino, who reps parts of Staten Island and southern Brooklyn, announced her retirement earlier this year, two weeks after her district was redrawn to include much bluer Brownstone Brooklyn neighborhoods where she would likely face a reckoning over her past caucusing with Republicans in the Senate.

The new plurality Asian Senate seat, District 27, also may be on its way out, meaning the 373,000 Asian Brooklynites will have to go another decade without substantive representation in Albany.

Kristen Gonzalez, a candidate in another brand-new state Senate District 17, which encompassed Greenpoint and several Queens neighborhoods, said she isn’t swayed by the ruling, despite the district she hoped to represent being wiped away.

“The district may change, but what won’t change is the work we’re doing to build a New York that puts working-class people first, not just the wealthy few,” Gonzalez said on Twitter. “And we’re excited to continue fighting.”

Update (April 29, 10:30 am): This story has been amended with a statement from Max Rose.

Update (April 30, 6:10 pm): This story has been updated to change confusing language regarding Diane Savino’s decision to retire.