Cuomo reaffirms a promise to veto legislature-drawn districts, triggering undetermined court involvement

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Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders. (Governor Andrew Cuomo, via flickr)
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Despite Governor Andrew Cuomo's pledge to reform New York's partisan redistricting process, there has been some lingering uncertainty over exactly how he phrased his promises to do so, and whether certain other actors might be preparing some political cover for him in the case of an eventual half-measure.

This morning, Susan Arbetter did her best to clear it all up when Cuomo appeared on her radio show, Capitol Pressroom.

“You have said that you are going to veto the lines if they’re drawn by LATFOR," said Arbetter, referring to the legislative entity charged with the decennial redrawing of New York State's legislative and congressional lines. "I have that right, right?”

"Yes," Cuomo said.

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The governor compared the situation with LATFOR to his recent dealings with the Public Employees Federation, which received nearly 3,500 layoff notices—as promised—after the union's members rejected a deal with Cuomo.

"One of the things that I try to do, Susan, is provide people clear options," he said. “I think to the extent I can provide certainty and clarity, that helps other people make choices.

"I have said with LATFOR, I believe the process is not independent, and I don’t see how a non-independent process can come up with an independent product. I therefore would veto a bill that was not an independent product. It would then go to the courts. Period. And that’s what I have said. And that’s what I’m sticking by.”

While Cuomo's comments provided additional clarity on his plans, the process gets murky in the courts. Any citizen can challenge redistricting lines under the state or federal constitution, and they can do so in any county, meaning the process starts with the potential for dozens of overlapping cases. They can also challenge the Assembly and State Senate lines separately from the congressional lines.

Eventually, the cases must get consolidated; in 1992, most of the challenges ended up in a federal court in Utica. That court eventually certified the state lines drawn by the legislature. The congressional lines, however, were imposed by a state court in Brooklyn, but only after a federal court appointed a special master who drew up lines that legislators particularly disliked. The legislature eventually passed the state court plan that had already been imposed.

Even in light of Cuomo's veto promise, it's possible LATFOR can still have some influence on the process. If the legislature passes a LATFOR plan, it becomes the basis for the court challenges. And if the legislature doesn't, it's possible the court still uses some of its work-product, though the ready access that to sophisticated computer-mapping programs that now exists gives LATFOR less of a monopoly on making maps than it had back in the late 1970s, when it was considered a progressive step toward reform.