If Republicans emerge from the 2022 midterm elections with control of the House of Representatives, it will be in significant part because of a multiyear legal battle over redistricting in the state of New York.
"Redistricting" is one of those process-oriented terms that ordinarily puts to sleep anyone who isn't a political professional. In this case, though, it's a story worth paying attention to; it translates into the concrete difference between an original gerrymandered plan that would have crammed New York's Republicans into four congressional seats, and the results of this contest, which elected 11 Republican members of Congress from New York's 26 congressional districts.
The eleventh race hasn't been called by The Associated Press as I write, but the Republican was leading with 97% of the vote reported.
By successfully fighting the crooked election maps in court, Empire State Republicans wound up creating "a markedly different result," John Faso, a former Republican congressman who helped lead the effort, told me. The seven extra Republicans from New York — the difference between four and 11 — may well be the margin that decides control of the House.
New York Republicans don't get a lot of respect. They haven't elected a governor since George Pataki won in 2002, and they haven't elected a U.S. senator since Alfonse D'Amato in 1992. Yet in an Election Day that didn't have a lot of immediate bright spots for Republicans beyond Gov. Ron DeSantis' big win in Florida, the New York congressional race victories are being celebrated.
"It was just one of those very satisfying political things," said Ed Cox, a former chairman of the New York Republican Party who worked with Faso on the redistricting effort and who has been around politics since marrying President Richard Nixon's daughter Tricia in 1971.
Beyond Faso and Cox, the list of those responsible for the redistricting victories includes a mix of household names and more obscure figures. They aren't all Republicans.
One key figure was Edward Koch, who died in 2013 after serving as a Democratic congressman and mayor of New York.
One of Koch's final acts of public service was championing a ballot initiative that placed the design of the congressional districts in the hands of an independent commission charged with following principles including that "districts shall not be drawn to discourage competition or for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents." The voters of New York approved that in 2014.
While this is mainly a New York story, two Wisconsin figures played a role. Scott Walker, the former governor of Wisconsin, was finance chair of the National Republican Redistricting Trust. The lawyer who won the New York case for the Republicans, Misha Tseytlin, was solicitor general of Wisconsin from 2015 to 2018.
Tsyetlin immigrated to America with his family from the Soviet Union and its infamously uncontested and unfree elections when he was 7; he's clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy and for Judges Alex Kozinski and Janice Rogers Brown.
Businessman and philanthropist Ronald Lauder helped to fund litigation to defend the New York Constitution from legislative attempts to undercut it. The Empire Center for Public Policy, the nonpartisan free-market think tank founded by E.J. McMahon, litigated with help from the Government Justice Center to make sure that the independent redistricting commission got the funding it needed.
Faso also mentions Adam Kincaid of the National Republican Redistricting Trust as part of the "great team" that helped achieve the results in New York despite Democratic efforts at every turn.
The legal case in New York went through three levels — an initial ruling in Steuben County, then two appeals. The opinion from the state's highest court came from Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, an appointee of Democrat Andrew Cuomo. DiFiore rejected the gerrymandered Democrat-drawn districts as violating the principles of the state's constitution.
As The New York Times put it in a news story over the summer when DiFiore resigned with years left in her term, the redistricting decision "enraged Democrats." The Times quoted a Democratic member of Congress, Hakeem Jeffries, greeting the news of DiFiore's resignation by saying, "Good riddance."
Partisanship aside, the nice thing about the New York story is that the Republican gains in New York resulted not from drawing districts designed to be safe for Republicans, but from districts designed to be competitive, where voters had an actual choice.
People on the ideological spectrum all the way from Koch to Walker can appreciate that is how democracy is suppose to work, with the voters choosing between the politicians, not the incumbent politicians choosing their voters.
"If you want to win a tough political fight, it's good to be on the side of the angels," Cox told me. "We were fighting for fair districts."
Ira Stoll is the author of "Samuel Adams: A Life," and "JFK, Conservative." Read Ira Stoll's Reports — More Here.
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