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Between the Lines: The Last Two Redistricting Holdouts

A federal magistrate judge is mulling over objections to a draft map she released Monday, which shored up some Members and imperiled others. Next week she'll send a final version of a map to a federal three-judge panel that could decide to enact the map, tweak it or give the legislators more time to come up with a map of their own.

The judiciary is generally inclined to give the legislative branch as much leeway as possible so it can draw the lines.

In 1977, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote in a key redistricting case that "the federal courts ... possess no distinctive mandate to compromise sometimes conflicting state apportionment policies in the people's name." Only in the wake of a legislature's failure, he wrote for the court, is a "federal court ... left with the unwelcome obligation of performing in the legislature's stead, while lacking the political authoritativeness that the legislature can bring to the task."

But with the Congressional filing deadline in New York this month, the courts have been moving at warp speed to enact a map of their own to protect voters' constitutional rights.

The magistrate judge released her draft map a week early, surprising Albany insiders.

"The reason that they came out on this quickly is that they're trying to prod the Legislature to take action," one longtime New York Democratic consultant said.

If the prodding pays off, the Legislature will soon come to a deal, likely one templated on the judge's map. But whoever draws the final lines, New York's painfully long process one of the last outstanding in the nation will be over soon.

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