New York's top court on Thursday rejected a constitutional challenge by state Senate Democrats who claim Republicans improperly used two different formulas to redraw the election map that created a 63rd Senate district upstate.
The Court of Appeals, which took the case on an expedited basis, unanimously upheld a trial-level judge who found that using the different formulas to establish voting boundaries was not unconstitutional. The seven judges concluded "consistent application" of one formula is not required, and lawmakers have latitude in carrying out their state constitutional authority to increase Senate districts based on population shifts indicated by the census.
"It is not our task to address the wisdom of the methods employed by the Legislature in accomplishing their constitutional mandate," the court said. "Rather, here, we consider only whether the methods chosen amount to 'a gross and deliberate violation of the plain intent of the Constitution."
Republican lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly struck a deal with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo to approve new election maps following the 2010 census, maps that critics say were unfairly drawn to help protect their political power.
The new 63rd district mostly covers Republican suburbs west and south of Albany.
The Republicans now hold a 32-30 majority in the Senate, including most of the upstate and Long Island seats. Democrats have a 2-to-1 voter enrollment advantage in New York state and said most of the population growth was in the New York City area, where they have most of the Senate seats.
On Friday, the Obama administration decided not to object to the redistricting plan. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said in a letter that the U.S. Justice Department has no objections to adding a 63rd seat under provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act, designed to ensure that minorities have a voice in government and that political district boundaries meet the one-person-one-vote principle.
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