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A federal judge unexpectedly tightened the redistricting vice on the deadlocked New York state Legislature this week, pushing the body to come up with a compromise or cede the redraw to an apolitical observer.
The release of a court-drawn draft map by U.S. Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann late Monday surprised the Albany political establishment — she wasn’t expected to release a map until next week — and added immense pressure to the Democratic-held Assembly and Republican-held state Senate to draw new Congressional lines.
“I think this will light a fire under the Legislature,” said a national Republican deeply familiar with New York redistricting.
“There is now a great incentive for the state Legislature to do a Congressional map,” a New York City Democratic consultant said, noting that while the draft map helped some Members, it made life a lot more difficult for others. “This is a great motivator.”
But given a number of approaching deadlines, something very similar to this map could well end up being used in November. Strategists of both parties said they didn’t expect these lines to be the final ones, but that they would likely serve as a guide and a strong influence for the Legislature looking to resolve its deadlock.
“It’s hard to imagine that legislative leaders want to relinquish the power of redistricting. They find the court intrusion cranky-making,” said a longtime Congressional aide to a New York Democratic Member. “Does this give them a road map that they can use and perhaps even get some heat off of them?” the aide asked. “Yes.”
But even if the two chambers can come to an agreement on redistricting soon — and there were indications Tuesday that a deal was near — there are huge hurdles before a final map from Albany could become enforceable law.
One is that the courts are moving exceedingly quickly on cementing their own plan. While courts generally prefer to have legislatures draw lines — a marquee Supreme Court decision called judicial drawing of lines an “unwelcome obligation” — the fact that the candidate petitioning period begins this month may influence the speed of a decision. By Monday, Mann will release her final plan to a federal three-judge panel, which will hold a final hearing on the map March 15. That panel could tweak and/or finalize 2012 lines anytime thereafter.
Attorneys familiar with the case said that if the Legislature can come up with a compromise plan, the courts might give them time to pass a map. But the truth is, there isn’t much time to give.