In In the Matter of Establishment of Congressional Districts by the New Jersey Redistricting Commission, the New Jersey Supreme Court rejected a Republican lawsuit challenging the congressional redistricting map selected by the New Jersey Congressional Redistricting Commission (Commission).
Facts of the Case
The Commission is initially comprised of six individuals affiliated with the Democratic Party and six who are affiliated with the Republican Party. An independent thirteenth member selected by the New Jersey Supreme Court serves as the tiebreaker. In the latest round of redistricting, the court selected the Honorable John E. Wallace, Jr. (ret.), to serve as the independent member and Chair of the Commission.
On December 22, 2021, a majority of the Commission’s members that included the Chair voted in favor of the map the Democratic delegation presented. Plaintiffs, the Republican delegation to the Commission, filed an amended complaint on January 5, 2022 to challenge that map. Plaintiffs filed their complaint directly with this Court, pursuant to Article II, Section 2, Paragraph 7 of the Constitution.
According to the Plaintiffs’ suit, the actions of the Chair were “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable,” presented violations of “federal and state constitutional equal protection and due process protections,” and posed a “common law conflict of interest.” In support of their claims, the Plaintiffs’ cited the Chair’s decision to select the Democratic map out of “fairness” because the Republicans “won” in the last redistricting cycle.
NJ Supreme Court’s Decision
The New Jersey Supreme Court dismissed the suit, citing that the Plaintiffs’ complaint failed to assert that the map the Commission adopted was itself “unlawful.”
“Historically, after meeting in private with the respective partisan delegations to discuss their proposals, the independent member serves as the tiebreaker and selects one party’s preferred map,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote for the court. “The outcome commonly garners praise from one party and criticism from the other. This redistricting cycle was no different … This Court has no role in the outcome of the redistricting process unless the map is ‘unlawful.’”
Chief Justice Rabner further noted that redistricting is a “political process” and that “it is not the Court’s task to decide whether one map is fairer or better than another” provided that the chosen map is not illegal or unconstitutional.
The New Jersey Supreme Court also rejected the Plaintiffs’ claim that the Chair had a conflict of interest under the common law and should have recused himself because his wife made a political contribution to a member of Congress from New Jersey in 2021. “The Constitution does not bar the selection of a person who has contributed to a political campaign or a partisan political group, or whose spouse has done so, as the independent member,” Rabner wrote. “We therefore find no disqualifying conflict.”
Finally, the New jersey Supreme Court noted that New Jersey is free to change its redistricting process. “To change the system and distance it from partisan politics would require a proposed constitutional amendment and voter approval,” Rabner noted. “Those decisions can begin with grassroots efforts … or the political branches of government. In the end, the choice is left to the people of our State.”