This didn’t have to be so complicated
What do the new congressional districts in this part of New York look like?
Before we get to that, let’s back up.
In August 2021, this column observed that New York has enough people west of Syracuse and Binghamton for four such districts. It would have made sense for:
¯ One district to include Buffalo, plus either (1) much of the rest of Erie County or (2) some of the rest of Erie County, and some of Niagara County.
¯ A second district to include Rochester plus the rest of Monroe County and some of a neighboring county, preferably Wayne County, and
¯ A third district and a fourth district to comprise the rest. One question was whether the line dividing them would run east-west or north-south.
An east-west line would have left the current Niagara-Frontier-and-Finger-Lakes district and the current Southern-Tier-and-Finger-Lakes district largely intact.
By contrast, a north-south line may well have meant a district would have largely included New York’s eight westernmost counties: Erie, Niagara, Orleans, Genesee, Wyoming, Allegany, Cattaraugus, and Chautauqua, except the parts of Erie, or Erie and Niagara, in the first district.
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The congressional districts that a New York state Supreme Court drew, and released on May 20, partly – yet only partly – coincide with these suggestions:
¯ One district has Buffalo plus some of the rest of Erie County, and some of Niagara County.
¯ A second district has Monroe County plus some of Orleans County. However, given all that Niagara and Orleans counties have in common, Orleans and the remainder of Niagara belong in one district.
¯ A third district starts with the remainders of Niagara and Orleans, extends through the Finger Lakes, and wraps around Lake Ontario’s eastern shore into counties that would have fit well into the North Country district.
There’s more: Remember that U.S. Supreme Court case law requires that congressional districts in any given state have equal populations. So drawing districts is like pushing toothpaste around a tube. Every change affects at least one other district and often more.
This third district’s expansion into counties on Lake Ontario’s eastern shore forces the North Country district to expand further south out of the North Country.
That, in turn, is part of what forces another district to stretch from Central New York to the state’s eastern border.
¯ A fourth district starts with Southern Tier counties: Schuyler, Chemung, Steuben, Allegany, Cattaraugus, and Chautauqua. So far, so good: Six Southern Tier counties remain together in one district. Added to it is almost all of Erie County east and south of Buffalo.
If all of this makes your head spin, that’s understandable.
This didn’t have to be this complicated.
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Apart from what the new congressional districts in this part of New York look like, you, faithful reader of this column, already understand a potential problem with a court’s drawing congressional districts.
What’s the problem?
Under the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause – in Article I, Section 4 – the “Times, Places, and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.”
The key word here is “Legislature.”
As this column recalled in March 2022, four U.S. Supreme Court justices said on March 7 that the court should decide whether, given the Elections Clause, courts – as opposed to state legislatures – may draw congressional districts.
If courts may not draw congressional districts, courts may still consider, for example, the constitutionality of congressional districts. Yet if they’re unconstitutional, the remedy may be to have the state Legislature redraw them. Again and again, if necessary, until it gets them right.
Anyway, the Elections Clause didn’t stop a New York state Supreme Court from drawing New York’s congressional districts.
Unless there’s a successful challenge to them, they’ll stick.
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Since Democrats control the New York state Legislature, New York Republicans may well not want to raise the Elections Clause in New York.
One question for New York Democrats is whether they want to raise the Elections Clause in New York and thereby risk contributing to losing courts’ authority to draw congressional districts elsewhere.
Chautauqua County resident Randy Elf’s July 2020 column on congressional redistricting is at https://www.post-journal.com/life/viewpoints/2020/07/save-our-district-again.
ç 2022 BY RANDY ELF