New Jersey's Redistricting News
TRENTON, July 31 - The New Jersey Supreme Court today put an end to Republicans' long-fought effort to force a redrawing of the state's legislative districts.
The court's 4-to-3 decision, released today, preserves current legislative boundaries until the next census, and it ensures that the election season now under way will not be disrupted. All 120 seats in the Legislature are contested this year.
The state was briefly thrown into confusion when an appellate court panel ruled in January that the map did not conform to requirements in the State Constitution. The Supreme Court stayed that order, however, while it reviewed the case.
The decision today brought bitter responses from Republicans, who were dealt another critical setback by the court when, last fall, it permitted the Democrats to replace Senator Robert G. Torricelli on the general election ballot.
"I am disappointed but not surprised," said John O. Bennett, the Republican co-president of the evenly divided State Senate. "A reversal of a unanimous appellate division panel is unusual, and in this case unfortunate, since the decision does not reflect the facts."
Jeannette Hoffman, the executive director of the Republican State Committee, said she was surprised only because three of the justices dissented. Ms. Hoffman said the Supreme Court telegraphed its intentions when it stayed the lower court decision.
"We didn't think the same Supreme Court that ruled to replace Bob Torricelli in 12 hours was going to follow the Constitution instead of rewriting it as they have traditionally done," she said.
For two years the Republicans have challenged the redistricting of 2001, which benefited Democrats by breaking up concentrations of minority voters in Newark and Jersey City and moving them into several more suburban districts.
While the Democrats said the plan gave more minority candidates a chance to win seats, the Republicans argued that it unfairly diluted minority votes. The Republicans brought two challenges in federal court, under the Voting Rights Act and under the United States Constitution, and lost both.
In state court, the Republicans invoked a provision in the New Jersey Constitution that governs the division of counties and municipalities in drawing Senate and General Assembly districts.
But in its opinion today, written by Justice James H. Coleman Jr., the court said the provision could not be enforced in Newark and Jersey City because the court had approved earlier divisions of those cities in similar circumstances.
Saying the public interest is best served by maintaining certainty in the electoral system, the state Supreme Court delayed a ruling Thursday that would have required the legislative map to be redrawn for this year's election.
For all practical purposes, the ruling means the map used in 2001 - which a three-judge appellate panel said on Jan. 22 is unconstitutional because it divides Newark and Jersey City into three districts instead of two - will be used for this fall's elections.
The Supreme Court said in its ruling Thursday that the two cities have been split into three legislative districts since the constitutional amendment was adopted nearly 40 years ago.
Republicans, who were surprised by the January ruling in their favor, fumed over another ruling by a Supreme Court they see as too activist. Last year the court let Democrats replace U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli on the ballot after the deadline and only five weeks before the election.
"Without question, there is now a dark cloud over New Jersey's election process as our legislative candidates are forced to run for seats that are clearly unconstitutional," said Republican Senate President John Bennett, R-Monmouth.
"Their judicial activism on behalf of state Democrat candidates has become a national joke," said Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, R-Monmouth, the state Republican Party chairman.
Democrats were pleased. They said the map approved by the Legislative Apportionment Commission in 2001 helped more minorities get elected than ever before and noted that both parties received nearly the same number of Senate votes - and the Senate is evenly divided.
Justice Jaynee LeVecchia cast the sole vote against the decision and issued a dissenting opinion in which she said the commission doesn't have much time to draw a new map because it filed an appeal six weeks ago rather than get to work. LeVecchia noted that the commission adopted a map within 15 days of the appointment of Princeton University professor Larry Bartels as its tiebreaker two years ago. She also said unconstitutional plans are "intolerable" if a corrected map can be drawn.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and scheduled arguments for April 28, which is three weeks after the filing deadline for the June primary. It is possible the court could decide a new map will be needed for the 2005 Assembly election.
Claiming the legislative districts in New Jersey unfairly penalize Jersey City, Mayor Glenn D. Cunningham and four of his predecessors are asking the state Supreme Court to invalidate the boundaries.
In a letter to the court supporting a lawsuit filed by Republican Assemblyman Paul DiGaetano, the minority leader, Cunningham and four previous mayors of Jersey City argue that the current district lines "dilute Jersey City's representation in the state legislature" by splitting the city into three districts instead of two.
"This form of gerrymandering has had negative repercussions on the city's ability to properly and adequately represent its citizens at the state legislative level," reads the letter, signed by Cunningham and former mayors Bret Schundler, Gerald McCann, Anthony Cucci and Joe Rakowski.
Putting aside the various political differences that have kept them apart on other issues - Schundler, the lone Republican in the group, ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2001 against James E. McGreevey, whom Cunningham supported - the five blasted the state Democratic Party, which has defended the district lines, during a news conference yesterday at City Hall.
"I am very concerned about how the Democratic Party in New Jersey is representing Jersey City," said McCann, who served two non-consecutive terms as mayor in the 1980s and now works for the city Incinerator Authority.
The lawsuit, which was upheld by a state Appellate Court last month and is now on appeal to the Supreme Court, contends that it is a violation of the state Constitution for the largest cities - Newark and Jersey City - to be split into more than two districts. They are now each split into three districts.
The Jersey City mayors argue that the lines dilute the city's influence in the Legislature because, as it stands, only two representatives - Sen. Joseph Charles and Assemblywoman Elba Perez-Cincirelli, both Democrats in the 31st District - have a majority of Jersey City.
The 32nd and 33rd districts include parts of Jersey City but neither has a majority of its constituents within the city limits.
"We think Jersey City's citizens deserve to have their very unique interests represented in Trenton," said Schundler. "I've always been uncomfortable with the representation we have," said Cucci.
But Assemblywoman Joan Quigley, who lives in Jersey City and represents parts of five other municipalities as well, said the city is better off with the lines the way they are, with each of the nine Hudson County legislators having a piece of the city.
"I think that's interesting because right now (Jersey City) has three senators and six assembly members all with a stake in Jersey City," said Quigley. "We've got all nine members of the delegation trying to do what's best for Jersey City."
State Sen. Bernard Kenny, D-Hoboken, who also favors the current districts, said the main reason for having Jersey City spread out among three districts is to help more minorities get elected. Confining each city to two districts, Kenny said, would have the effect of "packing" more African-American and Hispanic voters into fewer districts.
"The whole purpose is to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act," Kenny said. "This is really an issue of trying to keep districts as unpacked as possible."
Unless the Supreme Court reverses the Appellate decision, the commission that drew the current districts in 2001 would have to meet again and fix them before April 7, when candidates must file to run in the June 3 primaries.
Cunningham is considering a run for state Senate in the 31st District if Charles retires, which many believe he will. If that district were to include more of Jersey City - and less, or none, of Bayonne - some political observers think it could tilt the balance to Cunningham in a close contest.
Underlying the fight over the district lines, which has largely pitted Republicans against Democrats, is a power struggle within the county that has put Cunningham at odds with the rest of the local Democratic Party, which is heavily influenced by U.S. Rep. Robert Menendez, D-Union City.
The letter to the court states that as a result of the district lines, "Jersey City has been held hostage by its smaller neighbors to the north."
But the officials gathered yesterday at City Hall insisted the dispute was over basic fairness, not personal interest or partisan politics.
"Jersey City is grossly underrepresented," said Cunningham.
RENTON: REDISTRICTING REVIEW SOUGHT The commission that redrew New Jersey's legislative districts voted 6 to 5 yesterday to ask the State Supreme Court to review an appeals court decision striking down the districts as unconstitutional. The ruling last week by an appellate court threatens to disrupt the coming election. All 120 seats in the Legislature are on the ballot, and candidates have only until April 7 to file. The commission, known as the State Legislative Apportionment Commission, has five Democrats, five Republicans and an independent member. The independent member voted with the Democrats for a review of the court ruling. Laura Mansnerus (NYT)
Democrats and the independent tiebreaker on the Apportionment Commission voted Monday to ask the state Supreme Court to overturn an appellate decision that invalidated the legislative map they drew two years ago.
The testy, confrontational tone of the half-hour meeting illustrated the stakes in the unexpected legal fight. Democrats rode the impact of the 2001 map to take back the Assembly and gain partial control of the Senate. Now Republicans have a chance to reverse it.
Last week, an appellate court said the legislative map is unconstitutional because it divides Jersey City and Newark into three districts instead of two. It ordered the state to draw a new map by early April, the candidate filing deadline for the June primary.
Democrats and Princeton University professor Larry Bartels, appointed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Deborah Poritz in 2001 to draw the map in question, voted against starting a replacement map while they appeal to the Supreme Court to reverse that decision.
"In this case, what they saw as being unconstitutional is the same identical thing Republicans have done for decades. So it's obviously a case of hypocrisy at its best," said Democratic Senate President Dick Codey, D- Essex.
Codey said the map should be upheld because it meets the goal of protecting the interests of minority voters, but Republican Senate President John Bennett, R-Monmouth, said more than one map can do that.
"That would be if you were going to turn around and couldn't use a map that would have equal or greater minority representation. Our map, in fact, provides for greater minority representation," said Bennett, who said a proposed GOP map from two years ago would have yielded the state's first Hispanic senator.
Municipalities can't be divided into more than one legislative district unless its population is too large to fit into one district. Such cities can be divided between two districts, the constitution says.
But Jersey City and Newark, the only two cities the rule applies to, have been split between three districts or more since legislative maps were first drawn around 1970. Such splits have been permitted by judges in the past, Democrats say.
If the map needs to drawn again, more than just the six districts that contain parts of Jersey City and Newark would be affected because districts must have balanced populations. It's also possible the entire legislative map would be redrawn, top to bottom.
Redistricting has cost more than $1.8 million in the last three years, mostly to pay lawyers. Republicans said there is only $70,000 left in the redistricting account, though the 2001 state budget essentially gives the commission unlimited funding.
Republicans have to pay for their lawyers in these appeals, while the state pays the Democrats' lawyers because they are, in effect, defending the state's map. The Republicans said the Democrats shouldn't hire four law firms as the state endures a budget crisis.
"We are looking at a budget deficit in this state that's substantial," Bennett said. "The governor has asked us to do the best we can, and we're talking about jumping out and hiring four - not one or two, four - law firms to take this action."
"If they hadn't filed so many lawsuits, we'd have a lot more money left. They spent the money, not us," Codey said. At least three other Republican lawsuits were unsuccessful. "The money thing is a diversion from the real case."
"We don't know where the dollars are at this point," said Assemblyman Louis Greenwald, D-Camden. "One way or the other, you're going to have to spend money. You're either going to have to spend money to defend it or you're going to have to spend money to redraft it."
Codey said two of the law firms - those of lawyers Leon Sokol and Donald Scarinci - worked for the Democrats on the redistricting process and remain involved to help the lead law firm in the court battle, Jenner and Block of Washington.
In a surprise ruling that could throw this year's campaigns for Senate and Assembly into turmoil, an appeals court yesterday invalidated the state's legislative districts and ordered them redrawn to comply with the state constitution.
Unless the ruling is overturned on appeal, the commission that drew the districts in 2001 would have to meet again and fix them -- before April 7, when legislative candidates must file to run in the June 3 primaries.
Republicans originally objected to the district boundaries on civil-rights grounds, arguing that they unfairly diluted minority votes in the Newark area. Those claims were turned aside by state and federal courts in 2001. But yesterday, a three-judge state appeals court ruled in the GOP's favor on a narrower issue, saying that carving Newark and Jersey City into three legislative districts each violated plain language in the state constitution.
Republicans yesterday celebrated what they consider a long-overdue vindication of their arguments against the map.
Calling the ruling "a victory for the rule of law and the voting public," Senate Co-President John Bennett (R-Monmouth) said: "It is imperative that these flawed districts are corrected so that New Jersey may move into this year's election with a new, constitutional map."
But Democratic lawyers promised to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court, and sounded confident that they would prevail.
"If I were a Republican, I'd keep my dancing shoes in the closet," said Senate Co-President Richard Codey (D-Essex).
Following the 2000 Census, a bipartisan commission was appointed to redraw the districts to make them roughly equal in population. The Republicans and Democrats could not agree on a map, and an independent 11th member named to break the deadlock chose the Democrat-crafted plan.
Republicans sued to block the plan, but lost in both state and federal court, and the Legislature ran the 2001 election in the new districts. Helped by the new map, Democrats won back the Assembly for the first time in 10 years and pulled into a 20-20 tie in the Senate.
But for the past year-and-a-half, another lawsuit -- this one filed by Assemblymen Paul DiGaetano and Kevin O'Toole, both of Essex County, and several voters -- quietly moved through the state courts.
In this lawsuit, the Republicans pointed to a provision in the New Jersey Constitution dating from 1966 that prohibits map-drawers from splitting up the state's two biggest cities, Newark and Jersey City, into more than two districts. They are now split into three districts each.
Yesterday, Judges James Petrella, Jack Lintner and Lorraine Parker of the Appellate Division of Superior Court ruled that the GOP lawmakers were right. Of the constitutional language at issue, the court wrote that "nothing could be clearer or more basic."
The idea that heavily minority Newark and Jersey City should go into two districts runs counter to the concept that drove Democrats who drew the new map. In a process they called "unpacking," Democrats sought to spread black and Hispanic voters into a number of districts. They would still represent a large chunk of the voters in each district, but no one minority group would make up the majority of the electorate in those districts as in the past.
The Democrats argued that this strategy would help elect more black and Hispanic legislators. Republicans said it would dilute the minority vote.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals endorsed the "unpacking," ruling unanimously in May 2001 that the map did not violate minority voters' rights.
But last April, another federal court in Georgia threw out a map drawn up by Democrats there that reduced the percentage of blacks in several districts. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of that ruling from the Georgia Democrats.
While the language of New Jersey's constitution is clear, Democrats argued that federal laws invalidated it. Democratic lawyer Leon Sokol said it would be impossible to protect the minority vote as the federal Voting Rights Act requires if the state follows its own constitution.
Yesterday's state appeals court ruling "would effectively force you to pack those minorities into a smaller number of districts," Sokol said.
Codey said that would disenfranchise minorities: "Their votes would not matter as much," he said.
The 2001 election added four new minority members to the Legislature.
Newark and Jersey City have been divided into three or even four districts in almost every decade since the redistricting rules in the state constitution were approved in 1966. In some of those years, a Republican plan was chosen.
"If the Republicans are arguing this is wrong, why did they do it? How hypocritical is that?" Codey said.
While the ruling involves only two cities, the effect would be sweeping if it stands: "Once you change one district, you change all the districts and it become a domino effect," Sokol said.
(David Kinney covers politics. He can be reached at [email protected] or (609) 989-0273. )
Garden State Party
New Jersey would no longer be a House battleground state under a redistricting plan approved Friday, which protects most targeted Members of the state's delegation. But the new lines are unlikely to deter a GOP challenger to Rep. Rush Holt (D), who last year won re-election by 1,101 votes.
The state's 13-member redistricting panel - comprised of six Democrats, six Republicans and a nonpartisan tiebreaker - approved a map that closely resembles an incumbent-protection plan drafted earlier this year by the state's 13-Member House delegation.
The commission's plan helps Holt, slightly increasing his party's strength in his central Jersey 12th district. President Bush, for example, who took 45 percent in the current 12th, would have received just 40 percent in the new district. But GOP sources said Holt still is likely to face a challenge from millionaire businessman Finn Casperson (R), a major party donor, who had been lobbying officials to make the district more competitive. Holt would still be favored in the new 12th, despite the changes.
While he could have faced a more dire outcome, Holt angrily attacked Republicans on the panel, saying they were motivated by politics and their own financial gain.
"I'll get along just fine," he said Friday in an interview after the vote. "But this commission took a bipartisan, consensus map and totally redrew it, not because of any principle of good government, but to protect a candidate, a big [Republican] party donor with a lot of money. It was just so transparent."
Elsewhere, Rep. Mike Ferguson's (R) 7th district would absorb almost all of Woodbridge, a GOP-leaning town, and Plainfield, a Democratic stronghold, would shift to Rep. Frank Pallone's (D) 6th district.
Cherry Hill will reportedly be included entirely in Rep. Jim Saxton's (R) 3rd district, and moderate Rep. Marge Roukema's (R) 5th district will add more moderate voters to her base in Bergen County. The plan would shore up both Roukema, who has faced strong primary challenges recently, and Bergen County Executive Pat Schuber (R), also a moderate, who plans to run for the North Jersey seat when she retires.
A New Jersey commission approved a plan today to redraw the state's Congressional districts in a way that is likely to preserve the current lineup of seven Democrats and six Republicans.
But the special redistricting commission made some minor changes to the original plan ó drawn up last summer by the 13 House of Representatives members themselves ó after the proposal was criticized in public hearings as too kind to incumbents.
Still, those involved in the process said today that the new district map keeps the current House members in strong position for re-election. The commission, made up of six Democrats, six Republicans and a 13th member chosen by the rest, approved the plan unanimously.
The new districts go into effect for the next elections, in 2002, said Bill Baroni, counsel to the Republican House members who helped draw the initial bipartisan map.
Tom Bonier, a consultant to the Democratic House members, said, "They had to make some more concessions and compromises so that they could get commission support, but in the end this strengthens the re- election prospects, I believe, of all 13 members."
Under the revised plan, the 12th District, represented by Rush D. Holt, a Democrat, would gain Democratic voters, but not as many as had originally been proposed. Mr. Holt and Representative Mike Ferguson, a Republican, are considered the delegation's two most vulnerable members. Mr. Bonier said Republicans were concerned that the initial proposal would not allow Mr. Holt's district to remain competitive enough.
The Congressional delegation had also planned to split the largely Democratic town of Cherry Hill into two districts, but Mr. Bonier said Democrats in South Jersey had complained that the split would dilute the town's political influence. Under the new plan, Cherry Hill will remain in a single district, the Third.
Similarly, Mr. Bonier said Democrats had feared that an initial plan to split Woodbridge three ways would dilute its power. Instead, the town will remain split between two districts: the Seventh, represented by Mr. Ferguson, and the 13th, represented by Robert Menendez, a Democrat.
In other changes, the commission moved Plainfield to the Sixth District, represented by Frank Pallone Jr., a Democrat, from Mr. Ferguson's district. The Fifth District, represented by Marge Roukema, a Republican, will gain about 20,000 Bergen County residents.
Despite the delay in the commission's approval process, Mr. Baroni said it was a cooperative one.
"It was a lot of bipartisan work," he said. "People worked together, and it worked very, very well."
All 13 members of New Jersey's congressional delegation will have districts designed to favor their re-election over the next decade under a redistricting plan approved unanimously by a state commission in Trenton yesterday.
Democrats and Republicans alike expressed confidence that each incumbent's re-election prospects are bolstered by the new map. Democrats currently hold a 7-6 edge in New Jersey's delegation to the House of Representatives.
The chairman of the nonpartisan redistricting commission, Alan Rosenthal, said the new districts minimize disruptions for voters while meeting the needs of both major parties.
"Roughly 90 percent of the people of New Jersey will be living in the same congressional district," said Rosenthal, calling the redistricting "a politically fair plan" that meets requirements of the state constitution. "There will be greater continuity and people might actually know who their congressman is."
Districts must be redrawn every 10 years in accordance with new census figures to maintain population balance. Some would-be challengers had griped that the bipartisan effort to redraw the map was done with sights set entirely on protecting incumbents. But proponents say the new map will help ensure that New Jersey's House delegation continues to rebuild important seniority -- the key to landing critical chairmanships and leadership posts in Congress.
"This is a great map for New Jersey," said Bill Baroni, a counsel to the GOP congressional contingent who helped draw the new districts. "This is a plan that keeps New Jersey (strong) in Washington, and strength in Washington is measured in seniority."
A last-minute snag in negotiations over the new map was averted with some minor changes to the district of Rep. Rush Holt (D-12th Dist.), who had balked over some details of a tentative deal reached Thursday night. Commission members agreed to a change that gives Holt a larger piece of the Monmouth County town of Manalapan in return for shifting all of West Long Branch into the district of Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.).
Mark Matzen, Holt's chief of staff, conceded that the late changes "probably" would help make Holt's district a bit more Democratic, "but not that much," noting that only about 30,000 people in the district of 650,000 residents would be affected. Republicans said they viewed the changes as inconsequential.
Holt, who won re-election last year by fewer than 1,000 votes, scored another victory at the expense of wealthy Republican Finn Caspersen Jr., who had sought to have his hometown of Bedminster remain in Holt's district so he could mount a challenge next year. Bedminster now will be in the 7th District, where the incumbent is a fellow Republican, Rep. Michael Ferguson.
Caspersen could not be reached for comment yesterday.
While there is no requirement that congressional candidates live in the district where they seek election, a candidate from outside the district risks being tagged a carpetbagger.
Ocean County GOP Chairman George Gilmore, a commission member, said the 12th District ends up being "not as competitive as we would have liked," but said the "right Republican" could win there.
Meanwhile, freshman Ferguson saw his district become more Republican. He benefited, for example, because sprawling Woodbridge was not split into three districts, something that would have helped state Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex) in a potential matchup next year.
More Bergen County residents were added to GOP Rep. Marge Roukema's 5th District, which could help her -- or a potential successor, Bergen County Executive Pat Schuber -- hold off a more conservative challenger in a future primary. Roukema, a moderate, was severely tested in the past two primaries by conservative Assemblyman Scott Garrett (R-Sussex).
George Norcross, South Jersey's Democratic power-wielder, won a victory when overwhelmingly Democratic Cherry Hill was left in the mainly Republican 3rd District, rather than being split with the 1st District. Placing Cherry Hill Mayor Susan Bass Levin in the 1st District would have given her an advantage in seeking the seat if Rep. Robert Andrews (D-1st Dist.) steps down. Sources say Norcross wants to back someone other than Levin.
Ron Marsico covers politics. He can be reached at (609) 989-0379.
The congressional redistricting plan that had the backing of all 13 House members from New Jersey is all but dead, but a compromise proposal hammered out yesterday in marathon talks was expected to win approval today, sources close to the talks said.
The compromise would protect all 13 incumbents and likely lock in seven seats for Democrats and six seats for Republicans over the next decade, said several sources on both sides. It differs only slightly from the original agreement, but makes accommodations for several politicians who hope to challenge incumbents in the next election.
The redistricting commission is scheduled to meet in public at the Statehouse at 10 a.m. to ratify a plan, and one source said the final map would be "very, very, very, very close" to what the delegation first proposed months ago.
Last night, Republicans were willing to support the compromise, and Democrats supported it in concept, but were still reviewing the details. The commission is scheduled to meet privately at 8 a.m. today to hash out any final issues, but several people involved in talks feared the deal could still fall apart.
"We hope to come to a conclusion," said one.
The boundaries of the 13 congressional districts must be redrawn every 10 years to make them almost exactly equal in population according to the latest Census data. The work is fraught with political infighting about matters major and minor.
The redistricting commission is composed of six Republicans, six Democrats, and one non-partisan tie-breaker. But top state and national political officials, New Jersey's 13 House members and their staff were all at work trying to make a deal yesterday.
Full details of the compromise plan were sketchy last night, but both Democratic and Republican sources said it includes several major changes.
First, it would make Rep. Rush Holt's 12th district safer by adding Democratic towns. But it would be slightly more competitive than the district envisioned in the original bipartisan plan. Holt won by only 600 votes in 2000, and Republicans had balked at approving a plan that would give him a free ride to re-election.
Finn Caspersen Jr., son of a wealthy GOP benefactor, wants to run against Holt and has been pushing for a far less Democratic district. But sources said Holt would still be a favorite to win a third term.
Second, the map would keep Cherry Hill in one district. South Jersey Democratic power-broker George Norcross had objected to the delegation's plan to split the heavily Democratic town and put Cherry Hill Mayor Susan Bass Levin in the 1st District.
That would have made Levin heir apparent to Rep. Robert Andrews. But Norcross wants to back someone else should Andrews step down, the sources said.
The new compromise plan also differs from the original agreement by not splitting the town of Woodbridge among three districts. Sources said splitting up the town was opposed by state Sen. John Lynch (D-Middlesex), who wants to help state Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex) should he run against freshman Rep. Michael Fergusen (R-7th Dist.). Woodbridge is Vitale's key base of support.
But it was unclear last night whether the Republican plan went far enough to win the votes of Democrats on the commission. Several sources said they did not think all 13 committee members would vote for the plan. Seven votes are needed for approval.
Two months ago, it looked as though the delegation's compromise plan would win easy passage. The panel's independent tie-breaker, Rutgers University political science professor Alan Rosenthal, favored the plan because it protected the 13 incumbents, and Democrats liked it because it was expected to secure seven seats for 10 years.
But Norcross and Caspersen helped unravel it.
So over the past two months, the Republicans and Democrats on the panel came up with alternatives, sources say. They presented them yesterday to Rosenthal, who pushed them to settle their differences.
The six Republican commissioners had been under intense pressure to vote for the congressional delegation's plan. Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser, personally called State GOP Chairman Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-Monmouth) twice demanding he get the delegation plan passed, Republican sources said.
David Kinney can be reached at [email protected] or 609-989-0273.
A state redistricting commission voted Friday to slightly modify New Jersey's congressional map.
The compromise plan was reached Thursday night after a marathon negotiating session.
The new plan was similar to a proposal supported by the state's entire congressional delegation. That plan would have shifted some towns between the 7th and 12th districts.
The new map was designed to protect all 13 current House members and also makes room for prominent politicians jockeying for the 2002 elections.
Democrat Rush Holt, who narrowly beat a Republican challenger for his first term, got some help from the mapmakers.
His 12th District now has parts of heavily Democratic Trenton. Several primarily Republican areas of the district that stretches from the Delaware River to the Atlantic Ocean were moved to the 7th District.
Cherry Hill, home to Democrat Mayor Susan Bass Levin, remains in the 3rd District, despite some attempts to move it.
Levin challenged longtime Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton for the 3rd District seat last year.
New Jersey has been a battleground state in recent congressional elections, but that may not last.
Democrats managed to oust a Republican incumbent in 1996 and again in 1998. Last year, Democrat Rush Holt held his seat in one of the nation's closest races while Republican Mike Ferguson won a highly competitive race for an open seat.
Now, Republicans and Democrats in the 13-member House delegation have united around a House districting map that could make New Jersey more secure for incumbents--and less exciting on election nights to come.
The plan would add Democratic territory to Holt's 12th District and Republican turf to Ferguson's 7th District, making it considerably more difficult for a challenger to come along and knock off either incumbent.
Getting the seven House Democrats and six House Republicans on the same page was no small feat.
"It has never been done before to have a delegation of members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, agree on a map in advance that ensures New Jersey's continued growth in seniority in Congress,'' said Bill Baroni, a lawyer for the GOP who helped draw the delegation map.
For a time, it appeared the map would win easy approval from the state's bipartisan congressional redistricting commission. It still might.
But opposition has developed in the person of Finn Caspersen Jr., a 32-year-old venture capitalist who wants to be the next GOP challenger to Holt.
Caspersen, son of a major contributor to the Republican Party, contends the delegation-endorsed map would help Democrats more than Republicans by essentially ceding the state's most competitive district, the 12th, to Holt.
"This is an inherently unfair trade from the Republican perspective,'' Caspersen said last week.
"The Democrats are getting a much better deal.''
Despite Caspersen's pleas, the GOP establishment has deferred to the six Republicans in the New Jersey delegation.
"The delegation agrees on the map, and we support the delegation,'' said Steve Schmidt, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Ingrid Reed, who monitors elections as director of the Eagleton New Jersey Project at Rutgers University, said Caspersen may have a point.
"For campaigns to be good for citizens, you need a certain degree of competition,'' Reed said. But she said Caspersen "looks self-serving'' because of his own political ambition.
The ultimate decision rests with the 13 members of the state redistricting commission--six Democrats, six Republicans and one nonpartisan member, Rutgers University professor Alan Rosenthal. Their task is to remap the 13 congressional districts according to the latest census data, so that each district has 647,258 people.
The commission held three public hearings and has until Jan. 15, 2002, to adopt a map by majority vote. The commission's next meeting, on Sept. 6, will be in private. Any vote to adopt a map must be done at a public meeting.
New Jersey's House delegation shrunk from 15 members to 14 after the 1980 census, then to 13 after the 1990 census. The state's population grew fast enough in the 1990s to avoid another cut this year, however.
The partisan breakdown of the delegation has reflected major political events of the past three decades.
Democrats enjoyed a 9-6 advantage in 1971, a lead that ballooned to 12-3 after the election of 1974 punished Republicans for the Watergate scandal. Republicans narrowed the gap from five seats to two in the 1980 election, riding the coattails of Ronald Reagan.
Democrats continued to hold a narrow advantage until the Newt Gingrich-led revolution in 1994, when New Jersey Republicans took an 8-5 advantage. Democrats regained control, 7-6, in 1998 and hold that advantage today.
If Holt and Ferguson end up with safe districts, New Jersey might not be a top target for either national party in 2002. Still, retirements and resignations always are possible.
At least one Republican House member, Frank LoBiondo of Vineland, has suggested he may challenge Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli next year. If so, he would give up his House seat.
Democrats say LoBiondo's 2nd District, in southern New Jersey, favors Republicans but could be won by a strong Democrat.
Rep. Marge Roukema, R-Ridgewood, has not said whether she will seek a 12th term in the House next year, and some Republicans are jockeying for position in case she decides not to run.
If nothing else, the redistricting battle could set up an entertaining primary battle. Unless he succeeds in changing the delegation-endorsed map, Caspersen's home in Bedminster would end up in Ferguson's district--and he could challenge Ferguson for the GOP nomination.
The state's bipartisan redistricting commission will soon meet to consider requests for minor revisions to the congressional delegation's proposal for redrawing New Jersey's 13 House districts.
But despite some opposition, sources close to the commission said the "incumbent protection map" now has enough support to pass -- largely unchanged -- next month.
The state's seven Democrats and six Republicans in Congress formally introduced a plan last night at the final public meeting of the commission last night. The map was crafted by congressional staff and is backed by every House member. It protects the 13 incumbents and solidifies the Democrats' 7-6 advantage over the GOP for the next decade.
The House members signed a letter to the commission saying "we believe this map represents a legally sound, fair and unbiased bipartisan plan that will remain responsive to the voters of New Jersey for the next decade."
The state redistricting commission redraws the 13 districts every 10 years to make them equal according to the latest census. The commission expects to vote on a new map in early September.
The delegation's plan is the leading proposal, but four of the 13 commissioners are unhappy with it.
Moderates are lobbying to put more of Bergen County into Rep. Marge Roukema's (R-5th Dist.) district. South Jersey Democratic leaders want to keep all of Cherry Hill in Rep. James Saxton's (R-3rd Dist.) rather than splitting it between Saxton and Rep. Rob Andrew (D-1st Dist.).
Finn Caspersen Jr., son of the millionaire GOP benefactor, is making the most noise. He has never held office, but wants a map giving him a chance to run against Democrat Rep. Rush Holt in the 12th district. He said he would submit his own plan to the commission soon.
Caspersen called the changes to the 12th district proposed by the delegation "radical" and "mind-boggling."
"Redrawing district lines to ensure that members of Congress are artificially re-elected by wide margins clearly does not echo the intentions of our founding fathers, nor does it reflect what today's citizens of New Jersey want," Caspersen said.
Holt won by 0.4 percentage points last year, but according to projections based on past voting trends, he would win by 16 points under the incumbent-protection plan, which moves heavily Democratic Trenton into the district. For Republicans, the trade-off is that Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-7th Dist.) would also get a far safer seat.
Caspersen says his plan would make both seats a little more competitive. Under his projections, Holt and Ferguson would both win re-election by 8 percentage points, which would give potential challengers some hope for upsets. Caspersen's plan would also put his hometown of Bedminster in the Holt district. The delegation's map puts it in Ferguson's district.
Commission members and aides said privately the commission might try to "tweak" the congressional proposal to appease the aggrieved parties.
The 12th district might become marginally less Democratic, but sources said it is unlikely Bedminster will end up in the 12th. Caspersen could still mount a run against Holt, but he would find that politically difficult without moving into the 7th district.
At last night's meeting, several local political leaders said a map that protects incumbents is good because it will mean growing clout for the state in the House.
"I believe the current map serves us well. It's important for us to have incumbency protection because seniority is good for all in New Jersey," said Mario Drozdz, former mayor of Belleville. "It's taken us 10 years to get back to having senior members in the House of Representatives."
David Kinney covers congressional redistricting. He can be reached at [email protected] or (609) 989-0273.
Jersey Plan Falters.
The state's bipartisan redistricting panel will
convene after Labor Day to vote on one of several maps currently being
reviewed, but support for an incumbent-friendly House map drafted by
Members could be waning.
New York Times
A federal judge has ruled that New Jersey's strict residency requirement for legislative candidates violates the United States Constitution's equal-protection clause. Jay R. Schwartz and Dennis Gonzalez sued the state after being barred from running for the Assembly in Passaic County. Because of redistricting and their moves to different towns, they had not lived in their districts for a full year. But with the June 26 primary over, the impact of the July 19 ruling by the judge, Dickinson R. Debevoise, above, of Federal District Court in Newark, was uncertain. [
The New Jersey House delegation has embraced a new map
aimed at protecting a bipartisan duo of vulnerable Members, Reps. Rush
Holt (D) and Mike Ferguson (R). Officials expect the map to gain the
approval of the state's redistricting commission later this year.
New York Times lymer
FOR years the Democratic Party has been hurt, especially in the South, by efforts to create overwhelmingly black districts that would send blacks to legislatures and Congress.
The premise of those efforts was that whites would never, or hardly ever, vote for blacks, and so the deck had to be heavily stacked to do black candidates any good. The unfortunate side effect on the Democratic Party -- the political home of most southern blacks -- was this: concentrating the black vote also created more heavily white districts, which in the conservative South meant more Republican districts.
But the party has found it hard to complain about the black-majority districts because they don't want to offend blacks and, after all, the districts do elect Democrats. Still, an ideal district for a black Democrat in the South is 65 percent black and 35 percent white; a white Democrat can win in a district that is 35 to 40 percent black and 60 to 65 percent white.
Now the Democratic Party has a major weapon to change things. A far-reaching federal court ruling that emphasizes party affiliation rather than race could justify an approach that may change the terms of redistricting debates central to battles for political control in dozens of states. The court, in Newark, held that New Jersey had violated neither the Voting Rights Act nor the Constitution by creative map-making that took some African-Americans away from majority black districts to try to help black and white Democrats in adjoining areas.
The court found that substantial numbers of whites voted for black Democrats -- especially in Essex County, whose districts were at the heart of the lawsuit. Black legislators throughout New Jersey supported the new mapping, hoping it would help the Democrats retake the Legislature. Nor is this a New Jersey peculiarity; the same pattern can be found in many states, including several Deep South states where black Congressional candidates ''always got at least one white vote in five,'' according an article in the Emory Law Journal by Charles S. Bullock III of the University of Georgia and Richard E. Dunn of the College of Charleston.
The New Jersey case is being appealed to the Supreme Court, but is unlikely to be decided before next year, by which time most states will have tried to redraw their legislative and Congressional districts.
In addition, the Supreme Court recently upheld a district created to elect a black candidate in North Carolina in a 5-to-4 decision that said what mattered was the partisan political purpose behind redistricting. So long as a plan could be defended on partisan terms, wrote Justice Stephen G. Breyer for the majority, the court did not have to find that its racial purpose violated equal protection laws.
Party leaders' reactions to the Newark case foreshadow the kind of redistricting debates the ruling is likely to create.
Representative Martin Frost of Texas, who heads the Democrats' national redistricting effort, contended that by spreading minority voters around, ''we can maximize minority strength and minority influence in the Congress.'' Republicans in the states and the Justice Department joined black politicians in creating majority black districts in the 90's, he said, only because they knew that ''packing'' black voters together in a few districts would help elect more Republicans overall.
AT which Benjamin R. Ginsberg, the Republicans' leading redistricting lawyer, scoffed, saying the New Jersey ruling ''foreshadows an attempt by white Democrats to roll back the results of the 90's by weakening minority districts and using minority voters to prop up white Democrats.'' He said the idea that whites did not instinctively vote against blacks was little more than ''a lovely political scientists' theory.''
But Mr. Bullock and Mr. Dunn's research backed up that theory. Looking at voting patterns in the 90's, they found that overall, blacks voted for Democrats solidly -- sometimes by more than 95 percent, but that whites were readier to split their votes between parties. Black candidates, though, still earned one fifth of the white vote. That was well below the 33 percent white voters gave all House candidates in the South in 2000, according to to the Voter News Service's national exit poll. But 20 percent is a very different from zero. As Professor Bullock observed ''The white electorate is increasingly willing to vote for black candidates.''
Democrats hope to use this sort of research to thin the percentages of blacks in many of the districts created after the 1990 census. By next spring, the Supreme Court is likely to be asked to hear not only the New Jersey case, but several more cases that examine the latest edition of racial redistricting.
Fair enough, because it the application of Supreme Court rulings that provided the patterns that the Emory Law Journal study showed. The redistricting of the 90's boosted black membership in the House from 26 to 39 (and membership in state legislatures from 430 to 557, or 5.8 percent to 7.5 percent), and then the Supreme Court threw out black-majority districts in several southern states, saying that redistricting based solely on race was unconstitutional. But black congress members were not ousted by new white majorities.
Sometimes incumbency's advantages brought them greater white support, and sometimes it did not. But black cohesiveness at levels of about 95 percent was enough for them to win, because whites were not as solidly Republican as blacks were Democratic.
Those results contradicted the long-held view that districts needed at least a 65 percent black population to elect a black. In coming up with that guideline, the Justice Department had assumed that each race would vote for its own, and that because blacks were less likely than whites to be of voting age, be registered or turn out to vote, a black candidate would need more of a buffer. The electorate turned out to be less racist than the government had anticipated.
The New York Times
To reassure a special panel of federal judges, Thomas P. Giblin, chairman of both the state and county Democrats, promised that the party would include a minority candidate on its primary ballot on May 26 in District 27. But that promise was easier made than kept. It has foundered because of a feud between Mr. Giblin and another leader, Senator Richard L. Codey. Mr. Giblin's original plan was to recruit Mims Hackett Jr., an African-American who is mayor of Orange, to run for the Assembly on the Democratic line. But because of the rift between Mr. Giblin and Mr. Codey, the State Senate minority leader, Mr. Hackett is running on an insurgent Democratic ballot line headed by Mr. Codey, while the party's official line contains no minority candidates.
"It's very curious," Mr. Giblin said. "It's embarrassing," Mr. Codey said. "It's embarrassing all around." "It's all hogwash," said Walter Fields, the state Republican Party's consultant in their bid to undo the redistricting plan backed by the Democrats. He maintains that the Democrats did not want a minority candidate on the ballot because, contrary to their assertions in court, they did not believe a minority could win in the redrawn district. Although the fight between two powerful Democrats has some people smiling, the disagreement has serious elements. It has arisen from the Democrats' successful redistricting strategy of breaking up large concentrations of minority voters in Essex County and distributing blocs of them among a number of new suburban districts.
The Republicans, loathe to face a core of loyal Democratic voters in the new districts, sued to stop the plan, arguing that it would reduce the number of minorities elected to the Legislature. The Democrats defended their plan by assuring to the court that minority voters no longer needed to predominate in a district to elect a minority candidate. And they promised to prove their assertion by putting minority candidates on the ballots in the all-new District 27.
On April 13, Mr. Giblin submitted an affidavit to the court promising to "give the party endorsement to an African-American candidate for one of the General Assembly nominations in the 27th Legislative District." Three days later, Mr. Hackett submitted a signed statement to the Essex County Clerk declaring that he was a Democratic candidate for the Assembly on the party line. But then the Republicans, who control the Legislature, postponed the primary for three weeks, thus postponing the filing deadline for candidates.
Mr. Giblin said the ballot he put together with Mr. Hackett on it began to fall apart. "Hackett has the Essex County organization line," Mr. Giblin said. "He signs the paper to that effect, and then, for whatever reason, Dick Codey made the decision to take him off the line and put him on his own." Mr. Codey said his reason was that Mr. Giblin had failed to consult with him in picking candidates. That is when he decided to set up his own ballot line, as he has in the past. He asked Mr. Hackett to join him. Faced with a choice, Mr. Hackett said he decided to favor Mr. Codey, an old friend. "The senator was born here, he was raised here and he's been very supportive of me," Mr. Hackett said, "and I decided I was going with the hometown person." Mr. Hackett added that he felt caught between two party leaders. "I had no inkling that it would cause any dissension between the two of them," he said.
Mr. Giblin has since put two white women, both Essex County freeholders, onto the official Democratic line for the Assembly. He said they had promised to resign their freeholders' seats if elected, so that, in a county where the party nomination is tantamount to election, he could pick two minority candidates to replace them. "That's what he says he's going to do later," Mr. Codey said. "But what is he doing now? He had 58,000 other minorities in the district he could choose from if he wanted one."
Mr. Fields, the Republican strategist
for the redistricting effort, said the absence of a minority on the
Democratic Party line proved that the Democrats, contrary to their
assurances in court, did not believe that a district that is now only
about 35 percent black and Hispanic, down from 62 percent, would elect a
minority candidate. "I don't believe that it is infighting between Codey
and Giblin," Mr. Fields said. "I believe it is a strategy where they will
get away with an all- white slate." Mr. Codey responded, "That's about as
silly as their lawsuit trying to block redistricting."
Ten years ago, a withering revolt against higher taxes by New Jersey voters swept Republicans into control of the State Legislature for the first time since 1971. Now, the party's decade of dominance may be in jeopardy. A new map of legislative districts survived a Republican challenge in federal court last week, and it could become the blueprint for change in November.
Leaders of both parties say the redistricting makes it likely that Democrats will trim Republican majorities in the Senate and Assembly, and Democrats say they expect to win control of at least one chamber. To win control of the Legislature, Democrats will need a net gain of six seats in each chamber. In the redistricting plan, Democrats managed to transfer big blocs of minority and some white Democratic voters into three traditionally Republican suburban districts in North Jersey, including the home base of the state's top Republican, Acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco, who is not seeking re-election to the Senate.
Democratic leaders say they are confident that those shifts will help them toward their goal. "The new Assembly clearly will be Democratic," said Richard J. Codey, the Senate minority leader and one of the map's authors. He also said he expected Democrats to capture the Senate, though that prediction was less emphatic. The Senate's majority leader, John O. Bennett, a Republican, said he expected his party to keep control of the Senate, albeit with a narrower margin than its current 25- to-15 majority. But he said he worried about the long-term prospects for younger, lesser- known Republicans who run for the Senate when incumbents retire.
As for the Assembly, where Republicans have a 45-to-35 advantage, he seemed to concede that his party would lose some seats this year, though he said he thought it would keep control. "It'll be very, very close," he said, "but I think we will retain it." Republican leaders are smarting over the redistricting. In many states, the party in control gets its way. But New Jersey's Constitution provides for a state apportionment commission of five Democrats, five Republicans and a nonpartisan member appointed by the chief justice of the State Supreme Court and empowered to break tie votes. That 11th member sided with the Democrats in the recent redistricting.
State Republicans sued in United States District Court in Newark to block the new legislative map, saying that the plan discriminated against minority voters by breaking up three predominantly black districts in and around Newark. But last Wednesday, a special tribunal of three federal judges threw out the challenge. In an opinion issued on Friday, the judges said the change broadened black and Hispanic voters' chances of electing candidates of their choice. Republican leaders plan to renew their fight in the state court system this week, on different grounds.
Democratic legislative leaders and some experts on state politics say the Democrats are poised for success in November because of the new map's demographic and partisan changes to three key districts ó the 22nd, 34th and 38th ó and the mood of voters. (Only one of those districts, the 34th, was named in the Republicans' lawsuit, along with three others in and around Newark, the 27th, 28th and 29th.) David Rebovich, a professor of political science at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., said the new map makes the Democrats competitive in several districts. "It looks like it could be a banner year for Democrats," he said. Voters, he said, are weary of ever-increasing property taxes, suburban sprawl, and the highway congestion and rising school costs associated with that growth. Republicans are groping for campaign themes, Dr. Rebovich said. "They know they're on the defensive this year," he said. Cliff Zukin, professor of public policy at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers, said he believed voters were leaning toward the Democrats, based on a Star-Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers poll of 632 voters conducted last month.
Respondents were asked if they would vote for the Democratic or Republican Assembly candidates in their district if the election were held at the time of the poll. Dr. Zukin said they favored Democrats 42 percent to 33 percent, with 25 percent undecided. (The poll had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.) That spread of 9 percentage points was at least double what it was when voters were asked the same question in 1997 and 1999, he said. In the redistricting process, the Democrats' chief strategy was shifting blocs of minority voters into strongly Republican suburban districts, said one party official involved in the process who requested anonymity.
In a Democratic Party analysis of the 1999 Assembly election, the Democrats received about 50 percent of all votes but won only about 44 percent of the Assembly seats, the official said. The reason, he said, was that many of those Democratic votes were clustered in urban districts where Democratic candidates amassed pluralities of 75 percent and higher. Each party submitted its own redistricting map to the tiebreaking member of the state apportionment commission, Larry M. Bartels, a professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University. He accepted the Democrats' map, partly because he found it fairer and less partisan than the Republicans', he said last week during the court hearing on the Republicans' lawsuit. Dr. Bartels said his criteria for judging the maps included a hypothetical legislative election in which Democratic and Republican candidates each received half of the vote. Ideally, he testified, that would produce a 120-member Legislature with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. He said the Democrats' map came closer to that target.
Senator Bennett contended that the Republican map was fairer because it would produce a Legislature of 61 Republicans and 59 Democrats, while the Democrats' map would favor Democrats 63 to 57. "I believe we had an uphill fight from Day 1," he said. "It's almost like we were set up." The Democratic map dismantled Mr. DiFrancesco's suburban district in Union and Somerset Counties, the 22nd, by removing three Republican communities ó Westfield, Chatham and Berkeley Heights ó and adding Plainfield, Linden and Rahway, three Democratic bastions. A black Democratic assemblyman from Plainfield, Jerry Green, will now seek re-election from the new 22nd District instead of his current district, the 17th.
The overhaul of the 34th District, a Republican stronghold in Passaic County, was also dramatic. A Republican redoubt, Wayne, was moved out of the district, and two communities with sizable blocs of minority voters ó East Orange and Montclair ó were moved in. A black assemblywoman from Montclair, Nia H. Gill, from the 27th District, will now challenge the incumbent Republican senator, Norman M. Robertson, in the 34th. He has challenged the redistricting in federal court. The new map also shifts two Democratic towns, Fair Lawn and Fort Lee, into the traditionally Republican 38th District in Bergen County.
Tiebreaker in redistricting testifies in defense of new map
May 5, 2001
The Princeton University professor whose tie-breaking vote resulted in the adoption of a Democrat-sponsored political map testified Tuesday that districts do not need a black majority to elect a black candidate. Larry M. Bartels told the three-judge panel hearing a Republican challenge to the redistricting plan that the version he supported was the best of the half-dozen maps that each party crafted this spring. The Democratic plan was ``slightly better'' than the last Republican proposal in promoting minority representation, Bartels said.
Republicans charge that the redistricting violates minority civil rights, noting that three Newark-area districts, the 27th, 28th and 29th, that were majority black or close to it would now be well below 50 percent. But Bartels rejected an analysis presented Monday by a GOP expert that having less than a black majority would produce a ``chilling effect'' among black voters. In the 27th District, whose black voting age population would go from 53 percent to 27 percent, he noted that blacks could still dominate the Democratic primary and choose a black candidate. That candidate would be likely to prevail in the general election because the district was 60 percent Democratic, he said.
The district had been 80 percent Democratic, but one nearly all-black town, East Orange, and another Democratic stronghold, Montclair, were put in the 34th District, which had been overwhelmingly white. Bartels was appointed to the deadlocked bipartisan redistricting commission by the state's chief justice on March 27, and new boundaries for the 40 legislative districts were approved April 11. Also testifying in favor of the plan was Assemblywoman Nia Gill, a black woman from Montclair, who has filed to run for state senator from the new 34th District since she now longer lives in the 27th.
The new map ``unpacks'' the 27th, 28th and 29th districts and creates more opportunities for minorities to seek office, Gill said. Gill said either she or one of the two black women vying in the Democratic primary for senator would defeat the incumbent Republican, Sen. Norman M. Robertson of Clifton. Robertson last week also filed a lawsuit challenging the new map, saying it improperly relied on race, particularly in his 34th District, and gave undue preference to minority incumbents. It is unclear when that lawsuit is to be heard. To bolster their case that minority candidates will have a good chance at winning in the new 27th, 28th, 29th and 34th districts, the Democrats presented an analysis of 150 election contests in New Jersey by Professor Alan J. Lichtman, chairman of the history department at American University in Washington, D.C. Lichtman called the redistricting plan a chance ``to move beyond packing minorities into a few districts'' to provide additional opportunities.
``You do not need a majority of one race for members of that race to be elected to legislative office,'' said Lichtman, who the tribunal certified as an expert on minority voting rights. He noted that eight of the 15 blacks now serving in the Legislature were elected from districts where less than 30 percent of the adults are black. Gill and U.S. Rep. Robert Menendez testified that black and Latino voters often do join in coalitions to elect minority candidates, contradicting Republican testimony. ``I've enjoyed a significant crossover vote from non-Hispanic voters,'' said Menendez, D-Union City, a Cuban-American who has won his last several races with 80 percent of the vote.
The GOP challenge, which claims the map violates the U.S. Constitution and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, added uncertainty to the party primaries, which have been pushed back three weeks to June 26. All 120 seats from the 40 legislative districts are up for election. The time pressure came about because the 2000 census figures, which must be used to redraw the districts, did not become available until March 8. The federal tribunal heard nine hours of testimony from Republican witnesses on Monday, and took testimony from Democrats Tuesday. A decision is expected by the end of the week, but is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Democrats maintain the new map is lawful because it is acceptable to create districts that disperse the black vote in order to provide more districts in which blacks, Hispanics and other minorities taken together comprise majorities. Republicans hold majorities in both houses of the Legislature, 25-15 in the Senate and 45-35 in the Assembly.
A special tribunal of three federal judges today upheld New Jersey's newly redrawn legislative districts, rejecting Republicans' claims that the new map discriminated against minority voters because it broke up three predominantly black districts in and around Newark. The unanimous ruling in Federal District Court here surprised and dismayed Republican lawmakers and lawyers. While they were not worried about losing their decadelong control of the New Jersey Legislature in this fall's elections, they voiced concerns that the ruling would encourage moves elsewhere in the country to dismantle so-called majority-minority districts as Congressional and legislative districts are redrawn in the coming months.
"The sword of Damocles is hanging over all of them," said Frederick L. Whitmer, the state Republican Party's lead lawyer in the case. He called the decision "real shocking," saying he believed it was the first in which a federal court had upheld a dilution of black voting strength through the redistricting of predominantly black districts that are geographically compact. Previous rulings, he said, have upheld the breaking up of gerrymandered districts that stretch through several towns in an effort to assemble blocs of minority voters. Some political experts saw in the ruling a weakening of the nationwide coalition between Republicans and some black leaders that in the early 1990's pressed for the creation of strongly minority districts to give black and Hispanic voters a better chance to elect Congressional and legislative candidates of their choice.
Thomas Mann, a senior fellow and political scientist at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said he believed that the decade-old coalition and its redistricting strategy are not as robust as a new round of reapportionment approaches after the completion of the 2000 census. "Now, it seems to me, coming out of New Jersey is a potentially important legal precedent that will further frustrate that strategy," Mr. Mann said. "There's a growing sense within the African-American political community that their constituent interests would be better served by not packing African-American voters in majority-minority districts, and spreading them out a bit more."
Today's ruling came in a brief three-page order that was not accompanied by an opinion explaining the reasoning behind the decision. The panel's presiding judge, Leonard I. Garth, said the opinion would be issued in "due course." In the only glimpse of the judges' thinking, the order said the Republicans had failed to prove their argument that the redistricting plan discriminated against blacks by violating the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution. Under federal law covering legal challenges to redrawn legislative districts, the Republican lawsuit now goes automatically to the United States Supreme Court for review. Republican and Democratic officials alike said they believed it was unlikely that the high court would consider the case before the fall. Because the new districts are legally in place now, the officials said, New Jersey's legislative primaries will proceed as scheduled on June 26.
The candidates' filing deadline for the primary is May 10. The proximity of that date is thought to be the main reason the three judges held a speedy two-day hearing on the Republican challenge on Monday and Tuesday and then ruled today before writing an opinion. Democratic leaders here and in Washington hailed the decision. "The Republicans have been trying to pack as many minority voters into as few districts as possible," said Representative Martin Frost, a Democrat of Texas and the head of his party's nationwide Congressional redistricting efforts. "That's a calculated strategy. In this case, they were unsuccessful." The minority leader in the New Jersey Senate, Richard L. Codey, a Democrat of West Orange, said the Republican challenge to the new districts was disingenuous. "Republicans are not here on behalf of minorities," he said outside the federal courthouse here. "They're here on behalf of themselves. The court saw that very clearly." He and other state Democratic leaders had argued that the redistricting would expand political opportunities for black and other minority candidates.
They said the political power bases of those candidates would broaden in the future by shifting black and Hispanic voters from the Newark-area districts - the 27th, 28th and 29th - to more suburban districts. One such suburban district the Republicans included in their lawsuit is the 34th, once a predominantly white, Republican district in southern Passaic County, north of Newark. The redistricting increases the proportion of blacks of voting age there from 4 percent of all voting-age residents to 35 percent. Black and Hispanic Democratic incumbents in the State Legislature overwhelmingly support the transfer of minority voters from the 27th, 28th and 29th districts.
A specialist in racial redistricting
issues, David Canon, a professor of political science at the University of
Wisconsin, said today that it was atypical for black Democratic incumbents
and candidates to side with white Democrats in supporting the dismantling
of predominantly minority districts. "That's a very interesting twist that
the court may have paid attention to," Professor Canon said.
A three-judge federal panel on Wednesday upheld a new political map for New Jersey, setting the stage for a likely showdown before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Democratic-backed redistricting plan had been challenged by the state Republican Party, which charged it violated minority civil rights. U.S. Circuit Judge Leonard I. Garth announced the decision for the panel. Garth said the Republicans ``have not satisfied their requisite burden of proof'' but did not elaborate on the panel's reasoning, saying only that a written opinion ``will follow in due course.''
The three judges heard 16 hours of testimony on Monday and Tuesday in an effort to expedite the case, which has already played havoc with preparations for the state's primary election. The time crunch came about because the 2000 census figures, which must be used to redraw the state's 40 legislative districts, did not become available until March 8. All 120 seats from the 40 legislative districts are up for election. The filing deadline for candidates was moved to May 10, and the party primaries have been pushed back three weeks to June 26.
The Republicans will pursue an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, and will consider whether to file a lawsuit in state court, said state Senate Majority Leader John O. Bennett, who was in court for the decision. The tribunal denied a GOP request to bar use of the map while it appeals, so the Republicans may seek an emergency stay from Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter, who handles such matters from New Jersey. GOP lawyer Frederick L. Whitmer said he could not frame the full appeal, however, until the tribunal issues its written opinion. Meanwhile, the Legislature could decide to further delay the primary, or delay it only for Senate and Assembly seats and proceed with the gubernatorial election.
It was not immediately known how soon the U.S. Supreme Court could address the case. Appeals from a special redistricting tribunal go directly to the high court, which generally does not have the option of refusing to hear such cases. Also in the courtroom was Senate Minority Leader Richard Codey, who urged the GOP to drop the case. ``They lost. Accept it. Move on. New Jersey has had enough confusion on this,'' said Codey, D-Essex. Less than a month after getting the census figures, the state's bipartisan redistricting committee was deadlocked, so New Jersey's chief justice appointed a tiebreaker, Princeton University professor Larry M. Bartels. He testified Tuesday how he encouraged both sides to make improvements to proposed maps and why he decided to support a Democratic plan, which was adopted April 11.
The GOP sued nearly immediately, claiming the map violated the U.S. Constitution and the 1965 Voting Rights Act because three Newark-area districts, the 27th, 28th and 29th, that were majority black or close to it would now be well below 50 percent. A GOP expert testified that having less than a black majority would produce a ``chilling effect'' among black voters in those districts, making it difficult for black candidates to be elected. Democrats maintained that the new map is lawful because it is acceptable to create districts that disperse the black vote in order to provide more districts in which blacks, Hispanics and other minorities taken together comprise majorities. Bartels and a Democratic expert on voting rights testified that districts do not need a black majority to elect a black candidate.
They noted that blacks would still dominate a party primary and that eight of the 15 blacks now serving in the Legislature were elected from districts where less than 30 percent of the adults are black. Both sides called black Democratic lawmakers to testify in support of their cases. The Democratic witnesses said blacks would benefit by ``unpacking'' the three districts and putting a minority presence in the formerly nearly all-white 34th District. They said blacks would now have sufficient numbers in four districts to elect their preferred candidates. Republican witnesses asserted that the plan amounted to illegal dilution of the black vote. Two black civil rights leaders testified that black candidates historically stand little chance in districts with that do not have a majority of blacks. Democrats countered that the unique circumstances of legislative elections, in which a three-person ticket is usually assembled by each party for one Senate and two Assembly seats, allow for multiracial slates.
The case was heard by Garth and two
other federal judges based in Newark, U.S. District Judges Harold A.
Ackerman and Dickinson R. Debevoise. The tribunal was formed from an
appellate court decision of April 23. It overturned an April 16 ruling by
Debevoise, who refused to halt the map's use, saying the Republicans would
be unlikely to prevail at a trial. Republicans hold majorities in both
houses of the Legislature _ 25-15 in the Senate and 45-35 in the Assembly.
Witnesses for the Republican Party accused Democrats Monday of realigning New Jersey's voting districts to serve the party's interest in violation of civil rights statutes. Republicans maintain that the new map, approved by the state's bipartisan redistricting commission on April 11 with Democratic support, breaks the law because it dilutes the majorities of black voters in three Newark-area voting districts. The GOP challenge, which claims the map violates the U.S. Constitution and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, is being heard by a three-judge federal panel.
Testimony is scheduled to continue Tuesday, with a decision expected by the end of the week. ``This was really about expanding Democratic opportunity, it was not about expanding black opportunity,'' said former state NAACP director Walter L. Fields Jr., the first GOP witness. He served as a consultant to the Republicans on the redistricting commission. Democrats maintain the new map is lawful because it is acceptable to create districts that disperse the black vote in order to provide more districts in which blacks, Hispanics and other minorities taken together comprise majorities. Fields said that creating districts in which blacks and Hispanics form a majority is not acceptable because the two communities have largely separate interests.
The GOP challenge has brought great uncertainty to the June primary, where all 120 seats from the 40 legislative districts are up for election. Hours after a federal appeals court on April 23 ordered the trial, lawmakers voted to postpone the primary for three weeks, to June 26, and Acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco promptly signed the bill. Candidates now have until May 10 to file nominating petitions. But even that may be too soon, if the tribunal orders a new map to be drawn. Any appeal of its ruling would go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hearing the case are U.S. Circuit Judge Leonard I. Garth, and two other federal judges based in Newark, U.S. District Judges Harold A. Ackerman and Dickinson R. Debevoise. They have a mixed political lineage. President Richard Nixon, a Republican, nominated Garth, 80, for federal court in New Jersey in 1969, and placed him on the Philadelphia-based 3rd Circuit in 1973. Ackerman, 73, and Debevoise, 77, both got their appointments in 1979 from President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat.
The appellate court decision of April 23 overturned an April 16 ruling by Debevoise, who refused to halt the map's use, saying the Republicans would be unlikely to prevail at a trial. This springtime crunch is occurring because the 2000 census figures, which must be used to redraw the districts, did not become available until March 8. The bipartisan redistricting panel reached an impasse and required the state's chief justice to appoint a tie-breaking member. As a result, a map was not approved until April 11. Republicans hold majorities in both houses of the Legislature, 25-15 in the Senate and 45-35 in the Assembly.
The new map knocks two Republican state
senators out of their districts while appearing to weaken the re-election
chances of three others. By comparison, Senate Democrats came out of the
process relatively unscathed. On the Assembly side, one Republican is
certain to lose a seat and others will face serious problems getting
re-elected because their districts now include urban areas that are strong
bases for Democrats.
The State Assembly today moved to delay New Jersey's primaries by three weeks, to June 26, as Republicans hoping to retain control of the Legislature waited for a federal court ruling on a plan to redraw the state's legislative districts to conform to the 2000 census. A change in the primary date, which is expected to pass both houses of the Legislature on Monday, also would push back the deadline by which a replacement could potentially be found for Acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco, the party's putative standard- bearer, who endured a heavy barrage of negative publicity this week. But Mr. DiFrancesco shows every intention of remaining in the race against Bret D. Schundler, the mayor of Jersey City. Today, he squelched the most public expression of dissatisfaction within his ranks when the Monmouth County Republicans gave him the favored position on the local primary ballots.
William Dowd, the county Republican chairman, had said on Wednesday that he was considering removing Mr. DiFrancesco from that favored line and remaining neutral in the gubernatorial race. Mr. Dowd could not be reached tonight. The race for governor has become entwined with the dispute over the shape of the state's legislative districts. Democrats back the redistricting plan since it would break up three existing districts with majorities of black and Hispanic voters and spread those often reliably Democratic votes across a larger number of districts. But Republicans, who have controlled both houses of the Legislature since 1991, albeit by steadily eroding margins, have attacked the plan in court, saying it would help white Democrats but remove the opportunities for minorities that already existed. It would also pose a challenge for Republicans whose new districts would gain Democratic voters.
The issue is to be taken up Monday by a federal appellate panel in Philadelphia. The wrangling over the primary came as Mr. DiFrancesco's campaign for governor prepared for its Sunday kickoff rally at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft in the heart of Monmouth County, and today's news that the local party was backing him averted a potential embarrassment. Mr. DiFrancesco also received a measure of good news today in a new Star Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers Poll that showed nearly two-thirds of New Jersey residents were unfamiliar with reports of his questionable business dealings. But the poll of 802 people, conducted from April 11 to 17, also showed that among the third of the public at least somewhat familiar with those news accounts, 62 percent think Mr. DiFrancesco did something unethical or even illegal.
Today's filing deadline for legislative candidates is likely to be pushed back to May 10 as part of the shift in the date of the primary, according to the Assembly speaker, Jack Collins. As expected, John Lynch of New Brunswick, who was Senate president when Democrats last controlled the upper house, did not file petitions to seek re-election. His Assembly running mate, Robert G. Smith of Piscataway, has filed to run for Mr. Lynch's Senate seat. Senator William E. Schluter, Republican of Pennington, also did not file for re-election. His district was redrawn, leaving his home in the district represented by Senator Shirley Turner, Democrat of Trenton. Four Assembly members also did not file for re-election, including Speaker Collins, while five filed to move up to the Senate: Mr. Smith, of Piscataway; Barbara Buono, Democrat of Metuchen; Kevin J. O'Toole, Republican of Cedar Grove; Nia H. Gill, Democrat of Montclair; and Leonard Lance, Republican of Clinton Township.