The left-leaning New Jersey Supreme Court is demanding answers from John E. Wallace Jr., the tiebreaker on the state’s Congressional Redistricting Commission, after he chose the congressional map proposed by Democrats over the one proposed by Republicans while providing little reason for it.
Some background: After each US Census, congressional districts in each state are redrawn. Towns that were once part of say, the 3rd Congressional District could be redrawn into the 4th Congressional District, and so on. Republicans and Democrats each propose redistricting maps, with each seeking to maximize their odds in future elections based on each district’s demographics.
This time around, John E. Wallace Jr, a former Supreme Court judge, was chosen to be the tiebreaker – or the one who chooses – between the conflicting Republican and Democrat redistricting maps in New Jersey.
Wallace Jr. chose the Democratic map “simply because in the last redistricting map it was drawn by the Republicans.” In other words, he chose the Democrats map not based on the merits, but because the Republican map was chosen in the last redistricting, which occurred after the 2010 US Census.
Republicans sued over the pick, writing in a court filing that Wallace “did not engage in any negotiations with the Republican or Democratic Delegations as part of any of these public hearings, nor did any negotiations or discussions take place in private during the time of the public hearings.”
New Jersey’s Supreme Court is now asking Wallace Jr. for more information regarding his choice of the Democratic map over the Republican one.
“A more detailed statement of reasons would assist the Court,” Chief Justice Stu Rabner wrote in his order to Wallace.
“The Court respectfully requests that the Chairperson of the Redistricting Commission (Wallace Jr.) amplify the grounds for his decision and present that amplification to the parties and to the Court by January 11.”
Republicans said that the Supreme Court’s order validated their lawsuit.
“Today, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued an unprecedented order confirming that our Republican lawsuit is meritorious, and that Justice Wallace’s selection of the Democratic map failed to contain any reasoning that the Court could possibly affirm,” Republican redistricting chair Doug Steinhardt said, NJ Globe reported.
“We are committed to continuing our fight for a fair and equitable map for the people of New Jersey with further discussion in the Court.”
The New Jersey Globe is also reporting that it isn’t clear whether the Supreme Court was aware of “sizeable campaign contributions” to his wife, who is involved in politics, before the court chose him as the redistricting tiebreaker.
Barbara Wallace, who served on the staffs of Governor Jon Corzine and Senator Frank Lautenberg, received large campaign contributions from stakeholders in the redistricting process during her campaigns for mayor of Washington Township, the Globe reports.
Barbara’s 2011 run for a 1-year unexpired term as mayor received large campaign donations from the legislative campaign fund of 4th District Democrats, as well as a Democrat-aligned trade union headed by Democrat Richard Sweeney.
When she sought a full term as mayor in 2012, she received donations from Steve Sweeney, the Gloucester County Democratic Organization, and the Carpenters Union – also aligned with Democrats.
Should Wallace ever have been in charge of the state’s redistricting process? Not everyone thinks so.
“Wallace had all the power,” an unnamed Republican leader told The Globe. “It’s not like we could have questioned his integrity, even privately, without taking a risk that he would hold it against us.”