The Court’s independent, transparent, non-partisan process produces a map that closely resembles the Common Cause Reform Plan and is a win for the public interest.
Against all odds, New Yorkers are set to benefit from an independent, non-partisan Congressional redistricting plan. In an outcome that no one would have predicted at this time last year, New York State is about to enact a new set of Congressional districts drawn not by the Legislature or a commission created by it, but by the Eastern District federal court.
When Democrats and Republicans could not come to agreement on a political compromise to eliminate two districts and protect favored incumbents (New York is going from 29 to 27 Congressional districts because of slow population growth compared to other areas of the country), it became imperative for the court to step in. With New York’s Congressional primaries now taking place in June instead of the traditional September (also the result of a court order to comply with the federal MOVE act intended to allow overseas military personnel adequate time to vote), a plan had to be in place by mid-March or New York risked losing its right to elect a Congressional delegation.
So while legislative leaders were busy wrangling for months behind closed doors to produce some of the most egregiously gerrymandered State Senate and State Assembly districts the state has ever seen, the Eastern District Court stepped in for Congress to model a starkly different process and product.
On February 28th 2012, the “Three-Judge Panel” overseeing the process appointed Magistrate Judge Roanne L. Mann as the “Special Master” charged with creating a new Congressional plan. Judge Mann retained Columbia University Law Professor Nathaniel Persily as an expert to assist in drawing the plan.
The defendants in the case, the Legislature and the Governor, were ordered to submit plans for the Special Master’s consideration and were also ordered to comment on the Common Cause Reform Plan.
Since December of 2011, Common Cause New York has made publicly available a set of reform redistricting plans based on traditional non-partisan criteria including communities of interest, compactness, contiguity, and respect for county, city, town, village, and school district lines wherever possible. The Common Cause Reform Plans also deliberately exclude consideration of political data, including incumbent residences. The Court’s order for the parties to consider the Common Cause Reform Congressional Plan was vindication for our strategy of establishing an objective, non-partisan standard by which all other plans could be judged.
The plans produced by the Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats for the Court’s consideration were, not surprisingly, highly partisan, with contorted lines drawn to optimize the chances of favored incumbents and the party’s chances of winning the most seats (you can compare the districts drawn by the parties with the current lines and the Common Cause plans here)
On March 6th, 2012 the Court released its draft plan. Instead of prioritizing political data and protection of chosen incumbents, the Court followed the same non-partisan, objective criteria as the Common Cause Reform Plan and deliberately barred the consideration of political data and incumbent residency. Throughout the process, the Court made all materials produced by the Special Master as well as those submitted by the parties, fully public and available online.
Guided by the same criteria, the Court produced a plan that closely follows the structure of the Common Cause Reform Plan in most areas of New York, with districts in Rochester and Buffalo adopted exactly, as the following maps illustrate.
Rather than closely following the structure of the existing Long Island Congressional Districts, the Court agreed with Common Cause NY’s analysis that the North Shore and South Shore of Long Island are distinct communities of interest and re-oriented Districts 2 and 3 to reflect this.
NEW YORK CITY:
In New York City, the overall structure of the Court’s plan is very similar to the Common Cause Reform Plan with some key differences in the Brooklyn and Northern Manhattan areas.
Like the Common Cause Reform Plan, the Court’s plan dissolves a combination of the existing NY 5 (Ackerman-D) and NY 9 (Turner-R) to create a new district shape entirely in Queens (Common Cause District 9, Courts District 06). This district is the first in the nation to have an Asian voting age plurality (38.8%) and represents the best opportunity for the rapidly growing Asian communities of Queens to participate in Congressional elections.
The Court’s districts 05, 07, 10, 12, and 14 also closely follow the Common Cause Reform Plan’s districts for these areas.
In the Hudson Valley, the Court’s plan closely follows the structure of the Common Cause Plan.
Most notably, the Court came to the same conclusion regarding District 16. Analogous to the current NY 17 (Engel-D), this district currently stretches from the North Bronx all the way to Harriman State Park in Northern Rockland County and connects these areas by a narrow sliver along the Hudson riverfront. Professor Persily specifically pointed this district out in his affidavit as one that does not comport with the Court’s criteria that “districts shall be compact, contiguous, respect political subdivisions, and preserve communities of interest.”
Like the Common Cause Reform Plan, the Court redrew the current NY 17 as District 16 – a compact, communities of interest-based district for the North Bronx and Southern Westchester. As a result, District 17 becomes a Westchester-Rockland district and District 18 becomes a mid-Hudson, outer suburbs district.
In Upstate New York, the Court once again closely followed the structure of the Common Cause Reform Plan in oriented the districts around commonly accepted communities of interest and geographical regions.
District 19, 20, and 21 are especially similar in establishing regional districts for the Hudson Valley-Catskills, Capital Region, and North Country.
Districts 22 and 24 in the Court’s plan differ the greatest from the Common Cause Plan as the Court preferred to keep one district oriented around Syracuse and Onondaga Country (24) and one district for Utica-Rome and the Central New York region (22) instead of a single district combining Syracuse and Utica-Rome in a Mohawk Valley District.
ROCHESTER AND BUFFALO:
In Rochester and Buffalo, the Court directly adopted the districts from the Common Cause Reform Plan:
“As is clear from the district configurations, Proposed Districts 25 and 26 are adopted from the plan submitted by Common Cause. Those configurations represent compact districts that encompass the Rochester metropolitan area (Proposed District 25) and the Buffalo/Niagara Falls area (Proposed District 26), respectively.”
Overall, we at Common Cause New York would like to thank the panel, the magistrate, and Professor Persily for the fine work on this plan. This court has demonstrated how a non-partisan, transparent redistricting process guided by clear, objective criteria can lead to an admirable outcome that serves the public interest. We strongly support the court’s decision to deliberately exclude political data, including incumbent residences, from consideration.
The product of this independent, non-partisan redistricting process speaks for itself. Judging by traditional redistricting principles and communities of interest, this is the best Congressional district plan New York has seen in decades.