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Federal judge refuses to block August congressional primary

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Congressional map (copy)

The congressional district map that state courts ruled to be an unconstitutional gerrymander.

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WASHINGTON – A federal judge in New York on Wednesday refused to stand in the way of a proposal to move New York's congressional primaries to Aug. 23, rejecting the Democrats' plea that the primaries should be held as originally planned on June 28 along district lines that the state courts have ruled to be unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan refused to issue the temporary restraining order that Democrats had wanted in hopes of keeping the primary in June. The judge's move also makes another remote possibility that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised – holding an at-large statewide congressional primary on June 28 – even more remote.

Kaplan's decision was the latest court victory for Republicans, who successfully sued in state court to overturn district lines approved by the State Legislature that shoehorned many of the state's Republican voters into just four of the state's 26 congressional districts.

"The DCCC and its leadership continues to learn a hard lesson: The people of New York State adopted strict provisions barring partisan gerrymandering in 2014," said former Rep. John Faso, who's been leading the Republican effort on the redistricting issue. "The Democrats have lost in every judicial venue this year. With today’s decision, they’re now 0/4.”

Kaplan's move on Wednesday doesn't end the Democratic lawsuit, but it allows a state court judge in Steuben County and a court-appointed nonpartisan expert to continue drawing up new district lines for primaries on Aug. 23. 

The federal case will move forward when a three-judge panel including Kaplan hears the Democrats' case in full sometime in the coming weeks. But Kaplan, who was appointed to the bench by Democratic President Bill Clinton, didn't exactly give Democrats much hope that their lawsuit would succeed.

“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,” Kaplan said, according to a Politico account of the court hearing.

The Democratic voters who filed the federal court case claim that the primary can't be moved to August because a federal judge in the Northern District of New York, in a 2012 ruling on the rights of absentee and military voters, ordered that New York's congressional primaries be held on the fourth Tuesday in June.

But it's now likely that the State Board of Elections or the Republican Party will go to that judge and ask him to revise that order to allow an August primary.

The next chapter in the state's redistricting drama will be written on Friday, when that Steuben County State Supreme Court Judge, Patrick F. McAllister, holds a hearing on public proposals for the new district lines. McAllister and the nonpartisan expert he appointed are scheduled to finalize new congressional lines for the state by May 20.

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Democrats on Monday made a last-ditch effort to reinstate the New York congressional map that state courts ruled to be an unconstitutional gerrymander, filing a lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan that aims to remove the redistricting process from a state court judge and a court-appointed special master.

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