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Court upholds 63rd State Senate seat

Republicans can go ahead with their plan to add a new seat to the State Senate in an attempt to keep political control in the upcoming fall elections, the state's highest court ruled Thursday.

The addition of a 63rd seat was upheld unanimously by the seven-member Court of Appeals, which said Senate Democrats failed to satisfy the "heavy burden of establishing the unconstitutionality" of the Senate GOP plan.

The new 63rd District created along the Mohawk and Hudson River valleys in reality was most crucial for Western New York, which retains the current number of Senate seats despite heavy population losses over the last decade.

The court rejected an appeal by allies of Senate Democrats, who argued different formulas used to divide the state into 63 Senate districts were illegal. Senate Republicans used a precedent dating to 1894 to bolster their legal case.

Senate Democrats expressed disappointment in the ruling but said they remain confident in other legal challenges in federal court.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the state's top Democrat, who signed the Senate GOP redistricting bill into law this spring, signaled he thinks the legal questions are over.

"The Court of Appeals has upheld the 63rd seat. So I think that will be the determination on that," Cuomo told reporters.

The state's highest court has not often gotten entangled in political squabbles between the two houses of the Legislature, and the judges noted there is long case law that affirms "acts of the Legislature are entitled to a strong presumption of constitutionality."

"It is not our task to address the wisdom of the methods employed by the Legislature in accomplishing their constitutional mandate," the court ruled.

The court's decision comes a week after the U.S. Justice Department also cleared the new Senate lines in a review of their adherence to federal voting rights law.

The decision also clears the way for lines drafted by Democrats in the Assembly to go forward for that chamber; those district boundaries were not specifically challenged but were part of the case because one piece of legislation was approved covering both houses of the Legislature.