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GOP's 63rd Senate seat plan OK'd

It's only three paragraphs long, but a letter Friday from the U.S. Justice Department is making Republicans giddy over their prospects of holding onto control of the State Senate.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said in correspondence to a lawyer for Senate Republicans that the Justice Department "does not interpose any objection" to the GOP plan to add a 63rd seat to the current 62-member chamber.

Those five words -- part of the Justice Department's clearance of the Senate's redistricting plan, required under the federal Voting Rights Act -- will become an important piece of evidence Senate GOP lawyers are certain to wave in court challenges to their redistricting measure. The new legislative lines were adopted in March, but are facing lawsuits challenging the Senate districts.

Senate Democrats claim the GOP plan, with its addition of a 63rd seat, is an illegal gerrymandering effort designed only to keep the Republicans in charge of the Senate in the face of an overwhelming Democratic voter enrollment edge in New York.

A similar legal cry was made 10 years ago, when the Senate GOP also increased the size of the chamber by one seat to 62; those court challenges failed.

On Thursday, the state's highest court heard oral arguments over the Senate lines with part of the GOP legal logic pointing to redistricting precedents dating back to 1894.

Senate Republicans say the Justice Department clearance of the lines means litigants in lawsuits now must show "irreparable harm" if the proposed district boundaries are approved.