A federal judge refused Wednesday to order New York to hold its congressional and state Senate primaries this spring using district maps declared unconstitutional by state judges, saying a legal effort by Democrats to revive the maps looked unlikely to succeed.
“Let’s be frank. This is a Hail Mary pass, the object of which is to take a long shot to have the primary conducted on state lines that the court says is unconstitutional,” U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan said.
A group of voters filed a lawsuit asking federal judges to intervene in New York’s redistricting battle after the state’s highest court ruled that district maps crafted by the state Legislature had been improperly gerrymandered to favor Democrats. Those maps would have given Democrats a clear edge in 22 of the state’s 26 congressional districts.
Replacement maps are now being drawn by an independent scholar at Carnegie Mellon University under the supervision of a state judge. The judge ordered the state’s primaries for Congress and state Senate moved from June to August so the redistricting process would have enough time to play out.
A small group of voters, represented by Democratic attorney Marc Elias, asked the federal courts to block that plan, arguing that New York has to hold its primary in June because of a 2012 court order by another federal judge, Gary Sharpe, who is based in Albany.
The lawsuit said that if the state has to hold its primary in June, it is too late to draft new maps, even if the ones crafted by the Legislature were unconstitutional.
Kaplan said forcing the state to use unconstitutional district maps simply to comply with an old court deadline that could easily be changed would trigger “chaos.”
“What are candidates supposed to do? What are voters supposed to do? What are all the people concerned with elections supposed to do? I would be hard pressed to imagine a scenario that would cast into greater disrepute the rationality, the fairness, the consistency of the holding of elections in this great country, than to precipitate that,” Kaplan said. “It’s decidedly against the public interest. And I’m simply rejecting the applications.”
Kaplan said New York could easily ask for permission to delay primary from Judge Sharpe, who’s previously approved New York’s requests to tweak its political calendar. State Board of Elections attorney Brian Quail told Kaplan the board would do so by the end of the day Thursday.
Christina Ford, an attorney representing the voters who filed the lawsuit, had argued New York lacks time to craft new maps and meet all voting rights deadlines by August.
New York’s gubernatorial and state Assembly primaries are still set to take place June 28.
The state Legislature also retooled Assembly district maps this year, through the same process that the court has ruled was unconstitutional, but Court of Appeals judges said they didn’t toss them out because a lawsuit filed by GOP voters didn’t specifically challenge them.
On Wednesday, former Democratic candidate Gary Greenberg filed a lawsuit asking a state judge in Steuben County to toss and order new Assembly maps and delay Assembly races until August 23 as well.
Associated Press writer Larry Neumeister in New York contributed to this report.