New Jersey’s Supreme Court requested more information Jan. 4 from Redistricting Commission chairman John Wallace Jr. as to why he chose the Democrat’s redistricting map proposal over Republicans’ competing map.
Chief Justice Stuart Rabner was responding to a Dec. 30, 2021, lawsuit filed by Republican members of the redistricting commission. Wallace, an Independent and a former New Jersey Supreme Court associate justice, was the tie-breaking vote on the 13-member panel in favor of certifying the Democrats’ redistricting proposal on Dec. 22, 2021.
In North Jersey, the Democratic map’s redesigned districts are seen helping incumbent Democratic Reps. Mikie Sherrill in the 11th congressional district and Josh Gottheimer in the 5th congressional district and hurting prospects for North Jersey incumbent Rep. Tom Malinowski in the 7th congressional district.
In their complaint, Republican commission members asked the Supreme Court to jettison the Democratic map. They contended that Wallace, despite saying he found both the Democratic and GOP maps “equally acceptable” to him, “inexplicably cast his vote” on the basis that the Democrats’ map prevailed the last time redistricting occurred in 2011.
Wallace was chosen by the New Jersey Supreme Court as the independent chair of the commission, breaking an impasse between Democrats on the panel who’d picked Wallace and Republicans who’d chosen Marina Corodemus.
At issue is the Wallace statement when he choose the map, saying “In the end, I decided to vote for the Democratic map simply because in the last redistricting map it was drawn by Republicans. Thus, I conclude that fairness dictates that the Democrats have the opportunity to have their map used for this next redistricting cycle.”
Rabner wrote in his Jan. 4 order: “A more detailed statement of reasons would assist the Court. … the Court respectfully requests that the Chairperson of the Redistricting Commission amplify the grounds for his decision and present that amplification to the parties and to the Court by Jan. 11, 2022.”
The Republican complaint argued that Wallace’s stated reason for choosing the Democratic map basically boiled down to “a predetermined decision that a Democratic map must prevail because Republicans ‘won’ last time.” Moreover, they said Wallace’s action and the commission’s action undermined the constitutional structure of the commission and was “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.”
GOP Redistricting Commission Chairman Doug Steinhardt called the prevailing map “Democrats’ gerrymandered incumbency protection map” on Facebook and said that the commission’s action disenfranchised 4 million New Jersey voters.
“The 13th member, Supreme Court-appointed Chairman John Wallace, led a befuddled redistricting process that only ever gave one party the opportunity to succeed and robbed New Jersey taxpayers of a voice. Unfortunately, over 4 million registered New Jersey voters got cheated,” Steinhardt said.
Gov. Phil Murphy offered praise for Wallace the day before the GOP victory in court, but declined to comment when asked what he thought of Wallace’s reasoning in choosing the Democratic redistricting map.
“No comment specifically on the map other than I’ve got unlimited regard for Justice Wallace. I think he was the right person to be in that seat, and I’m very gratified that Chief Justice Rabner put him in there,” Murphy said at his regular Jan. 3 briefing. “I think the commissioners each did an outstanding job. Obviously the six on our side of the aisle are the ones I know best.”
Instead of addressing Republican commission members’ concerns, Murphy focused on population growth in New Jersey, framing it as good news.
“I’m mostly gratified that New Jersey is growing, that people are moving here, not just because of the pandemic but that the census showed that and that we’re going to be in the happy position for the next ten years of retaining 12 representatives in the House of Representatives regardless of which side of the aisle they come from,” the governor said.
“That, to me, is the big news, and I hope that number goes up in the decades ahead.”