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NJ Supreme Court Rejects GOP Effort to Toss Redrawn Congressional District Map

The map will apply for the next decade until the 2030 federal census and a new map is drawn

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What to Know

  • New Jersey’s Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a Republican complaint seeking to toss out the new congressional district map favored by Democrats.
  • The order means the congressional map approved just before Christmas by the redistricting commission will stand. The map will apply for the next decade until the 2030 federal census and a new map is drawn.
  • That map, chosen by the tie-breaking 13th member of the panel, chairman John Wallace, was put forward by the Democratic members of the commission. Republicans sued soon after, alleging the map was an unfair gerrymander.

New Jersey’s Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a Republican complaint seeking to toss out the new congressional district map favored by Democrats.

The order means the congressional map approved just before Christmas by the redistricting commission will stand. The map will apply for the next decade until the 2030 federal census and a new map is drawn.

That map, chosen by the tie-breaking 13th member of the panel, chairman John Wallace, was put forward by the Democratic members of the commission. Republicans sued soon after, alleging the map was an unfair gerrymander.

Wallace said both maps met criteria he laid out, including adhering to the Voting Rights Act and maintaining geographical boundaries. But, he said, his choice to side with Democrats stemmed from a decade ago when the Republican map was chosen.

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, writing for the court in a 24-page order, said the GOP complaint never asserted that the final map was unlawful or the result of “invidious discrimination.”

“We review redistricting plans only to determine if the map selected is ‘unlawful.’ So long as the final map is constitutional, the Court cannot grant any relief,” Rabner wrote. “It is not the Court’s task to decide whether one map is fairer or better than another.”

Republican commission member Doug Steinhardt said he was disappointed but not surprised by the court’s ruling.

The Republicans raised a number of concerns, including that Wallace and his wife had previously contributed to Democrats. But the state constitution does not prohibit that and it’s not disqualifying, the court wrote.

The commission is inherently political, the court wrote.

“It is vital that the public have confidence in the Commission’s important work. Questions of partisanship or the appearance of partisanship can affect the public’s confidence, yet our current system is designed to be overseen by twelve partisan members and a thirteenth member whom the party delegations propose,” Rabner wrote.

The order goes on to point out that some states like Arizona, California and Michigan have independent commissions to draw congressional boundaries but stops short of recommending a similar change in New Jersey.

“In the end, the choice is left to the people of our State,” Rabner wrote.

The new map could lead to a 9-3 Democratic advantage in the state’s 12 U.S. House seats, according to the GOP. Democrats did not concede the breakdown.

Currently, Democrats hold 10 seats to the GOP’s two. Before Democratic pickups up in 2016 and 2018, the map was split evenly, with Democrats and Republicans each holding six seats.

Among the changes reflected in the new map is a reshuffle of the typically competitive 3rd District, which previously included Burlington and Ocean counties and is represented by Democratic Rep. Andy Kim. Ocean County was removed entirely from the district and replaced with parts of Mercer and Monmouth, which could help him in a reelection effort as Ocean County is a GOP stronghold. Kim’s victory in 2018 was a Democratic gain from Republicans.

Another change is the addition of all of GOP-leaning Warren County to the 7th District, which is currently represented by Democrat Tom Malinowski. Malinowski picked up the seat in 2018 for the Democrats, defeating Republican Leonard Lance.

The 5th District, where Democrat Josh Gottheimer unseated a Republican incumbent in 2016, no longer has Warren County towns but added a few in Bergen County, the state’s biggest county where Democrats have performed well recently.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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