ALBANY, N.Y. — A federal judge Wednesday denied Democrats a request for an emergency injunction to have New York use Democratic-drawn district lines for congressional elections.
Then the judge proceeded to relentlessly mock every aspect of their request.
The case stems from the surprise court decision last week to throw out the Democratic-drawn lines for House seats in New York that had left the party poised to pick up at least three seats in November.
“In the 102 years since my father, then a Ukrainian refugee, came into this country, if there were two things that he drilled into my head, they were … free, open, rational elections [and] respect for the courts,” said Southern District of New York Judge Lewis Kaplan, a Democrat. “The relief that I’m being asked to give today impinges, to some degree, on the public perception of both. And I’m not going to do that.”
Kaplan’s hearing, held in Manhattan but conducted primarily by conference call, was the first step in Democrats’ last-ditch attempt to save the lines approved by the Legislature earlier this year. Those lines were blocked by the state Court of Appeals last week, and the June 28 primary was soon rescheduled to Aug. 23 to give a judge time to draw new maps.
National Democrats sued in federal court on Monday.
They pointed to a 2012 federal decision that found New York’s then-September date for conducting congressional primaries was too late to ensure ballots were received by overseas military voters in time. Since that case, an Albany federal court has needed to sign off on any adjustments to the calendar for congressional contests; since that has yet to happen, the June 28 date should proceed as planned, they argued.
Kaplan was very skeptical that the approval for the August date wouldn’t soon be granted, rendering the entire Democratic argument moot.
Democrats were essentially arguing that the June 28 date “came down on a stone tablet in the middle of the Negev or wherever Moses brought the tablet down from on high,” he said. “There’s just no clear reason to believe that the [military voting] requirements can’t be met by the August date.”
Kaplan thus denied the request for an injunction. Democrats needed to prove a “clear likelihood of success” in future court arguments to receive that.
“This is a Hail Mary pass, the object of which is to take a long shot try at having the New York primaries conducted on district lines that the state says are unconstitutional,” he said.
What happens now: Had the injunction been granted, New York would have likely needed to simultaneously proceed with plans for a June 28 primary under the Democratic lines and the Aug. 23 lines that are currently being drafted by a Steuben County court.
The Aug. 23 date and the Steuben County lines are now the only ones on the table, barring some sort of miracle for Democrats in future federal court arguments.
In the coming days, a panel consisting of Kaplan (who was nominated by Bill Clinton) and two judges nominated by Republican presidents will have a full hearing on the Democratic request. Appeals on any decisions that come from those arguments would go directly to the Supreme Court.
So currently, June 28 is the date for primaries for statewide and state Assembly races, while Aug. 23 is the date for congressional and state Senate contests.
Democrats do have the option of passing legislation to push back the races due to be held in June to coincide with those in August, but it’s still far from certain if that will happen.
“I don’t know why we would continue to disrupt the process,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said on Tuesday. “It’s still a little fluid … but the path right now is to continue with June 28 for statewide primaries.”
“I’m happy that under our leadership in 2019, one of the first things we did was combine the [June and September primary dates] because we understood that not only was it an expense but it was confusing,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers). “So obviously our general policy has been to combine where we could.”