By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) -New York’s top court on Tuesday threw out the state’s congressional map, a decision that could eventually pave the way for the Democratic-controlled legislature to draw a new map that gives the party a major edge in the 2024 election.
A Democratic-drawn map could flip as many as six Republican-held seats next year, enough by themselves to shift the balance of power in the closely divided U.S. House of Representatives.
The case is among several legal battles around the country that could result in new congressional maps in nearly a dozen states, altering the electoral landscape ahead of what will be a hotly contested fight for control of the House.
Democrats need to gain a net of five seats nationally next year to recapture a majority.
In a 4-3 decision, the New York Court of Appeals ordered the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission to restart the map-drawing process ahead of 2024, as Democrats had requested.
Any district lines produced by the commission must eventually go for approval before the legislature, whose Democratic majority would be free to reject them and install a more favorable map in a process known as gerrymandering.
The complicated case stemmed from the 2022 cycle, when the redistricting commission – approved by voters in 2014 in an effort to eliminate gerrymandering – failed to agree on a map after deadlocking along party lines.
The state legislature took over, crafting a heavily gerrymandered map that was aimed at giving Democrats the edge in 22 of the state’s 26 districts.
The Court of Appeals ruled in a 4-3 decision last year that lawmakers did not follow the proper procedure in enacting the map. As a result, a court-appointed expert drew a much more competitive map that yielded 11 Republican seats, prompting Democrats to file a lawsuit challenging its use in 2024.
Since then, a moderate Court of Appeals judge in the 2022 majority retired and was replaced by a more liberal judge, leading to Tuesday’s split decision.
The three remaining judges from the earlier majority all dissented from Tuesday’s ruling, arguing that the court-drawn map should remain in place for the rest of the decade.
New York Republicans in Congress slammed the decision. Representative Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking House Republican whose district covers the northern tip of New York state, accused Democrats of politicizing the court.
“Corrupt Albany politics at its worst,” Representative Mike Lawler, a Republican who is likely to be targeted under a Democratic-drawn map, said in a statement.
Democrats applauded the ruling. Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, the top Democrat from the House representing eastern parts of Brooklyn, said it would “begin the process of drawing fair maps that give New Yorkers an opportunity to elect the representation they deserve.”
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Additional reporting by Moira Warburton; Editing by Mark Porter and Daniel Wallis)