N.J. congressional map stands after top court dismisses GOP challenge

GOP alleged gerrymandering, constitutional violations

By: - February 3, 2022 12:30 pm

The new congressional map as drawn by Democrats and chosen by the New Jersey Congressional Redistricting Commission’s tiebreaker in December 2021.

The state Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a Republican lawsuit seeking to restart the congressional redistricting process, a decision that protects district lines that will likely allow Democrats to maintain a broad majority of New Jersey’s House seats.

The court said its review of the redistricting process sought only to determine whether the map adopted by the New Jersey Redistricting Commission on Dec. 22 was unlawful. The court is barred from interceding if the map passes constitutional muster, the justices said in a unanimous decision.

“The New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling dismissing the Republican challenge to the adopted congressional redistricting map reinforces what we have said throughout this matter — that the map is constitutional, that the process was fair and that the outcome is in the best interests of the diverse communities that make up our state,” Democratic State Chairman LeRoy Jones said in a statement.

The Commission’s six Republican members sued Democrats and former Supreme Court Justice John Wallace after Wallace, the commission’s court-selected 13th member, cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of Democrats’ map.

The new districts’ boundaries give an edge to a handful of vulnerable Democratic House members whose districts will contain more solidly Democratic towns until at least 2032.

Of the 10 districts controlled by Democrats, only the 7th District, held now by Rep. Tom Malinowski, became more Republican. The 3rd, 5th, and 11th districts — districts the GOP believed they had a shot at winning in November — each shed GOP towns in favor of Democratic ones. The plaintiffs allege the map represents a gerrymander.

“The biggest victim isn’t us, the Republican caucus,” said Doug Steinhardt, a former Republican State chairman who led the commission’s Republican delegation. “It’s really 4.5 million New Jersey voters who aren’t going to get a chance to have their vote count the way it should count every second November for the next 10 years.”

When Wallace chose the Democrats’ map in December, he said maps submitted by both parties met each of his criteria. He said the Democratic map performed better on tests of partisan fairness but added he would not consider those tests because he did not request the parties consider them at the outset of the redistricting process.

Instead, he said he backed the Democratic map because the Republican map is selected when district lines were redrawn a decade ago.

Republicans argued Wallace’s decision was arbitrary and capricious and requested the process be kicked back to the commission. They also wanted Wallace recused over an alleged conflict of interest related to a small-dollar donation his wife made to Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12).

But the GOP did not claim the map itself was unlawful, the Supreme Court noted repeatedly in its Thursday decision.

The court said the plaintiffs waived their conflict claim because they objected to Wallace’s selection as tiebreaker only after he chose the Democratic map. Barbara Wallace’s donation was made last March, months before Wallace became the redistricting tiebreaker.

The constitution does not bar persons who make political donations from serving as the commission’s independent member, the court noted.

The GOP also targeted a written explanation for his decision that Wallace provided when ordered by the court — it was called an amplification — where Wallace credited partisan fairness tests for his decision to pick the Democratic map. Republicans argued this amplification could not be considered, but the Supreme Court called that argument moot because justices did not rely on the amplification in its decision.

The ruling was not joined by Justices Faustino Fernandez-Vina and Fabiana Pierre-Louis, who did not participate.


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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.