GOP says redistricting tiebreaker conflicted, chose worse congressional map

By: - January 6, 2022 11:23 am

(Getty Images)

New Jersey Republicans intend to argue former state Supreme Court Justice John Wallace’s selection of a congressional map drafted by Democrats should be overturned based on metrics delineated by the tiebreaker, but they’ll also claim the former justice’s pick was influenced by conflicts of interest.

In a virtual press conference Thursday, former Republican Chairman Doug Steinhardt — who was chair of the New Jersey Redistricting Commission’s GOP delegation — and attorneys argued Wallace’s choice was arbitrary and charged it resulted in the selection of an inferior map that would effectively disenfranchise millions of New Jersey voters.

“To go through the number of map revisions that both sides went through and to spend nearly a million dollars in taxpayers’ money, only to have the tiebreaker announce he was making a decision because of a decision that was made 10 years ago, is disrespectful not just to Republicans and Democrats but disrespectful to commission, to the process, to the constitution,” Steinhardt said.

Wallace, who was selected as tiebreaker by the state Supreme Court and nominated for that position by the commission’s Democratic cohort, last month said he selected the Democratic map because a tiebreaker selected a GOP-submitted map when lines were last redrawn 10 years ago.

He said the maps were equal on the criteria he laid out at the start of the process. The Democratic map pulled ahead on partisan fairness, he said, but the former justice said that would not be taken into consideration because neither delegation used those tests when drawing their maps.

In a statement, New Jersey Democratic State Committee spokesman Phil Swibinski called the approved map fair and said it “meets all constitutional and legal standards.”

“It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that Republicans are trying to undermine and discredit the work of the Congressional Redistricting Commission by leveling personal character attacks at Chair John Wallace, whose integrity and public service in our courts is absolutely unquestionable,” Swibinski said.

New Jersey’s Supreme Court, in response to a suit filed by the commission’s Republican delegation, intends to give Wallace a chance to explain himself further. In an order issued Tuesday, the high court asked Wallace to provide them with an expansion of his reasoning by Jan. 11.

Republicans chaffed at the court’s order Thursday morning. Steinhardt alleged the high court’s move was politically motivated, built to further an agenda instead of bolster voters’ representation.

“We are cognizant of the fact that the court is trying to give Justice Wallace an opportunity to kind of redefine the battlefield or the playing field, and we want to get out ahead of that narrative,” he said.

The plaintiffs — whose suit names Wallace, the Redistricting Commission, and its Democratic members as defendants — also contested Wallace’s claim that both parties’ maps equally satisfied the criteria he laid out at the beginning of the process.

They noted people of color account for at least 25% of the voting population in each of the 12 districts in the GOP map, compared to 11 in the Democratic map, though Jason Torchinsky, an attorney for the Republican delegation, could not say whether their map would expand non-white residents’ voting power.

He contested a claim made by Democrats that their map boosts the electoral sway of Asian American voters in the 3rd District, which is represented by Rep. Andy Kim, a Democrat and the state’s first congressman of Asian descent.

The GOP also noted their map split fewer counties between districts and left Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst split between two districts, breaking apart a community of interest that has for decades fallen within a single district. The joint base will span between the 3rd and 12th districts under the new map.

They also charged their map includes more competitive districts. The adopted map is likely to leave the state with a nine-to-three split in its congressional delegation, favoring Democrats. The adopted map makes most districts safer for their incumbents, but the 7th District, held by Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski, was made friendlier to Republican candidates.

The GOP also intends to argue Wallace was conflicted because of contributions Democratic officials made nearly a decade ago to a campaign for Washington Township mayor run by his wife, Barbara Wallace, and over of small-dollar donations she made to Democratic groups and candidates in recent years. The New Jersey Globe was first to report those contributions.

“We think Justice Wallace has a conflict. We think the process was flawed,” Steinhardt said. “We think the map, as selected, wasn’t well reasoned. We think the map that we provided is better.”


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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.