New York Democrats Pass Legislation to Limit "Judge Shopping" in Redistricting Challenges

In a move aimed at curbing the practice of “judge shopping” in redistricting challenges, New York Democrats have approved legislation that restricts legal challenges to district lines drawn by the legislature to just four counties. The bill, passed in both houses of the legislature, has sparked debate and drawn criticism from Republicans, who view it as retaliation for their successful challenge to the 2022 congressional district lines.

Under the new legislation, future redistricting challenges can only be filed in four designated counties: Albany, Erie, New York (Manhattan), and Westchester. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie defended the selection of these counties, stating that they are home to the state’s judicial departments and possess the necessary expertise to handle such cases.

However, critics argue that the chosen counties are predominantly Democratic and therefore biased, as Supreme Court judges in these areas are often affiliated with the Democratic Party. Republican Assembly Minority Leader Pro Temp Andy Goodell voiced concerns during the debate, accusing Democrats of changing the rules in response to their loss in the 2022 redistricting lawsuit.

The catalyst for the legislation was a lawsuit filed by Republicans in Steuben County, a rural region with a GOP majority, which resulted in the state’s highest court declaring the Democratic-drawn district lines unconstitutional due to gerrymandering. The subsequent redrawing of the lines by a court-appointed special master led to Republicans gaining four seats in the House, shifting the balance of power.

Assembly Sponsor Bill Magnarelli maintains that the bill is intended to streamline the legal process rather than favor one political party over another. He argues that the state already imposes similar limits on election law challenges and that the legislation would prevent forum shopping and ensure consistency in judicial proceedings.

However, GOP Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh contends that the bill effectively engages in judge shopping by designating specific counties where challenges can be filed. She argues that this undermines the impartiality of the judicial system and limits the ability of litigants to seek a fair hearing.

The legislation now awaits the approval of Governor Kathy Hochul, who has the authority to sign or veto it. While Hochul’s spokesman Avi Small has indicated that the governor will review the legislation, the final decision remains uncertain.

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In summary, the passage of this legislation underscores the ongoing political tensions surrounding redistricting in New York. While proponents argue it promotes efficiency and fairness, critics view it as a partisan maneuver aimed at influencing the outcome of future legal challenges. The implications of this bill could shape the landscape of redistricting litigation in the state for years to come.

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