New Jersey's Redistricting
The New York Times: "Judge Upholds Plan That Breaks
Up Black and Hispanic Districts." April 17, 2001
More recent redistricting news from New Jersey
A federal judge today upheld a New Jersey redistricting map favored by Democrats that breaks up three legislative districts with a majority of black and Hispanic voters and spreads them over several other districts. The ruling came three days before Thursday's state deadline for candidates to submit nominating petitions in the June 5 primary for all 80 seats in the State Assembly. In the ruling, Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise upheld a plan that was developed after a 10-member legislative commission, made up of five Democrats and five Republicans, could not agree on reapportionment. An 11th appointee to the panel, Prof. Larry M. Bartels of Princeton, drafted the redistricting plan approved today, which most closely resembled a map favored by Democrats. However, Judge Debevoise granted a request by the Republicans' lead lawyer, Frederick L. Whitmer, that temporarily blocked the reapportionment.
Mr. Whitmer said he would appeal the ruling to a three-judge panel on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday morning. The new map would move two Republican senators out of the districts they now represent. It would also create new challenges for several other Republican legislators, whose new districts would include many more black and Hispanic voters, who tend to favor Democrats. The Democratic approach was to move municipalities with large concentrations of black and Hispanic voters into districts with white majorities, giving the districts a new core of reliable Democratic voters but not a majority of black and Hispanic voters. Under the new map, Mr. Bartels said, minorities will account for 25 to 30 percent of the population in 17 districts.
Under the old map, those communities, mostly in Essex and
Hudson Counties, are concentrated in just a few districts. The Republicans
argue that this arrangement is unfair to black and Hispanic candidates
because it gives white Democratic incumbents a reliable bloc of
traditionally Democratic voters but not one so large that a minority
candidate might be able to beat the incumbent. That argument was supported
by the nonpartisan National Voting Rights Museum, a civil rights group
based in Selma, Ala.
Judge, rebuffing GOP, clears legislative map
April 17, 2001
A federal judge on Monday rejected Republicans' arguments that New Jersey's new legislative map violates minorities' rights because it breaks up what had been black-dominated districts around Newark. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise clears the way for the new map to be used by candidates running for 120 legislative seats this year. Candidates must file to run by Thursday. "The plan is going forward, the election is going to be held," Debevoise told the Republicans' attorney, Frederick L. Whitmer, as Whitmer asked him to delay the effective date of his ruling until an appeal could be filed. Democrats cheered the decision, saying it provided more opportunities for minorities who had previously been packed into a few districts. But GOP leaders would not concede defeat.
"We think the judge was wrong on the law, and we're not going to let it end here," said Assembly Majority Leader Paul DiGaetano, R-Nutley. "We're going to go back and talk with our attorneys and decide what our course of action is going to be." DiGaetano is in line to become Assembly speaker if his party retains control of the lower house. He was one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit hastily filed last week after a special commission adopted a Democrat-drafted district map making numerous districts that had been safe for Republicans suddenly competitive. In addition to rejecting an attempt by DiGaetano to shed the city of Passaic from his district to make his run for reelection this year more secure, the commission moved Clifton into a district that includes East Orange, and moved Bloomfield into a district that includes Irvington and part of Newark. Those moves make two veteran Republican Assembly members, Gerald Zecker of Clifton and Marion Crecco of Bloomfield, vulnerable to defeat by minority Democrats.
Zecker and Crecco were both in court Monday and said afterward they still planned to run for reelection. "I don't know how good it's going to be, but I'm going to run," Crecco said. Republican lawyers argued that the map violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was designed to attack discrimination against registering blacks to vote and to create districts that allowed them to vote for the candidates of their choice. Specifically, the lawyers argued that Senate Minority Leader J. Richard Codey, an Essex County Democrat who served on the redistricting commission, had taken what had been a district in which blacks were in the majority and realigned it so he would be representing mostly white people. Responding to that charge, Codey said last week that he moved himself into a more competitive district while creating a new opportunity for one of his former running mates, Assemblywoman Nia H. Gill of Montclair, to run for Senate in a new district.
Gill is black and would be running in the same district as Zecker and freshman Sen. Norman Robertson, R-Clifton. During the hearing, Debevoise repeatedly challenged Whitmer's claims. In one exchange, Whitmer said, "Elimination of minority-majority districts in the absence of a demonstrable demographic shift violates the Voting Rights Act." "I couldn't agree less," Debevoise responded. The Republicans' suit included affidavits filed Monday by two executives of the Voting Rights Museum in Selma, Ala. In one of the affidavits, the Rev. Cordell Tindell Vivian called the new map "a significant step backwards for black political representation" that, if upheld, would have national implications for reducing black voting power. But when Whitmer raised the affidavits, Debevoise said he respected "those wonderful people" but that New Jersey and Newark were different from Alabama.
The Democrats' response to the lawsuit included testimony supporting the map from black and Hispanic legislators, the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey. Whitmer did persuade Debevoise to issue an order prohibiting the printing of ballots before noon today so he could file an appeal with the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. Last Thursday, Debevoise issued a temporary order that was more sweeping, blocking any use of the new district map before Monday's hearing. The order he issued after Monday's hearing allows the parties to begin using the map at functions such as county conventions, where legislative candidates are chosen for the party line on the primary ballot. Technically, Debevoise ruled on a GOP request for a temporary order blocking use of the map while a lawsuit was fought. The GOP's underlying lawsuit remains. But his ruling Monday means that Republicans have almost no chance of prevailing on the merits of the case in his court.
The map was adopted last Wednesday
night after 10 days of closed-door meetings by a special commission
charged with redrawing the state's 40 legislative districts to account for
population shifts since the 1990 census. The five Democrats on the
11-member commission persuaded Princeton University Professor Larry
Bartels, a non-partisan tiebreaker, to favor their plan over maps proposed
by the five Republican members. Bartels had told the partisan factions on
the commission that he wanted to create a legislative district scheme that
had more competitive districts. Democrats and witnesses representing
minority groups who testified at public hearings said the way to improve
competitiveness was to "unpack" Essex County districts that were
predominantly minority and spread minority voters among more districts
where they would have more influence.
A federal judge is scheduled to hear arguments Monday in a dispute over the new legislative map for New Jersey that ``unpacks'' minorities from two majority-black districts and disperses them into nearby Republican ones. State Republicans have charged that the configuration cheats minorities of their voting rights, claiming the map violates the 1964 Voting Rights Act because it scales back the number of majority-black districts in the state. Democrats counter that the districts send a message that whites won't vote for black or Hispanic candidates.
The Legislative Redistricting Commission approved a new map last week, with the appointed tiebreaker voting with five Democrats. Other states wrestling with the same problem, including Indiana and Virginia, are likely to watch New Jersey's court case closely. After the 1990 census, congressional Republicans worked with black Democrats in the South to map more minority districts. The result allowed blacks to win more than a dozen seats in Congress. It also allowed Republicans to take over both houses in 1994, because black voters were removed from white Democratic districts.
The Voting Rights Act and subsequent rulings in court cases over it, have led to some confusion. The act says legislative maps may not harm the chances of minorities to elect their own, but subsequent court rulings have said district cannot be drawn only to elect minorities. ``The standards are unworkable,'' said Laughlin McDonald, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project in Atlanta. ``Nobody knows what they are,'' McDonald told The Star-Ledger of Newark for Sunday's editions.
Jersey Media Group
A new legislative district map adopted late Wednesday after intense political bickering may force three Republican state Assembly members from Bergen County to fight for two seats. The map, the product of a special redistricting commission, also puts Clifton into a heavily Democratic district that stretches south to East Orange, making two incumbent Republicans from Clifton, Assemblyman Jerry Zecker and Sen. Norman Robertson, vulnerable, leaders from both parties say. But Senate Majority Leader John O. Bennett, R-Monmouth, the lone Republican commissioner at the hastily called public meeting in Plainsboro, said he would go into federal court to try to block the map because it reduces the number of districts in which African-Americans are a majority from three to one.
``I think this is outrageous,'' he said. Sen. Richard J. Codey, D-Essex, chairman of his party's five-member delegation on the commission, acknowledged that the map is ``clearly much better for Democrats.'' ``It's fair, and the existing map was not,'' he said. Codey said the new map includes 10 districts where minorities, which he defined as African-Americans and Hispanics, together make up more than 50 percent of the population. Codey said Democrats persuaded Princeton University professor Larry Bartels, a non-partisan tiebreaker appointed by the state's chief justice, to support the Democrats' map over one proposed by Republicans.
``It appears the 11th member [Bartels] chose to conclude the process without reaching a consensus,'' said Tom Wilson, a spokesman for acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco, a Republican. Codey and the state's Democratic chairman, Tom Giblin, another commission member, said the map creates new districts in Essex and Union counties that Democrats believe they can win in November. They also said a strong showing atop the ticket by gubernatorial candidate Jim McGreevey could help Democrats pick up other seats and gain control of the Legislature for the first time since 1991, when the existing map was put in place.
The new map puts maverick state Sen. Bill Schluter, R-Mercer, in a district that includes Trenton. Schluter has said he would consider running for governor if his once-safe district was altered. Changes made in Essex County to ``unpack'' heavily Democratic districts that minority leaders said limited their influence will have a ripple effects through North Jersey. For example, Clifton and West Paterson will be part of a new 34th District that also includes Montclair, Glen Ridge, and East Orange. That will mean two incumbent Democrats, Assemblywoman Nia H. Gill of Montclair and Assemblyman LeRoy J. Jones of East Orange, will be in the same district as the GOP's Zecker and Robertson. Either Gill or Jones is expected to run for Senate, making Robertson, a freshman, vulnerable. Only 2.1 percent of the current 34th District is black. The new district will be nearly 37 percent black.
Reached Wednesday night before the vote, Robertson held out hope the Democrats were wrong about the final map. ``I think the map will be struck down,'' said Robertson, who drove from Passaic County to Plainsboro to see the final vote after learning about the district's composition from The Record. ``This is one of the most racist moves I've ever seen in politics.''
The map shifts many towns in North Jersey, leaving some incumbents, such as Codey, with a district all to themselves, while others will have to fight members of their own party for survival. Shifting Oradell from the 38th District to the 39th puts three Republican Assembly members, Guy F. Talarico, John E. Rooney, and Charlotte Vandervalk, in one district. Because each district elects two Assembly members and one senator, one incumbent will not be elected. Codey said the Democrats did not get everything they wanted. For example, they had hoped to put Paramus in the same district as Englewood, creating a battle between 38th District Sen. Louis Kosco, a Paramus Republican, and 37th District Sen. Byron M. Baer, an Englewood Democrat. Instead, Kosco's district will lose Garfield, Oradell, Palisades Park, Rochelle Park, and Wood-Ridge and pick up Edgewater, Fair Lawn, and Fort Lee. Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero called the changes a ``significant victory'' and said putting Fort Lee in Kosco's district gives Democrats a better chance of unseating him.
Democrats also prevented Republicans from getting some of the things they wanted. In particular, the city of Passaic will remain in the 36th District. Assembly Majority Leader Paul DiGaetano, who moved from Passaic to Nutley, was widely reported to have wanted the city put into another district so his base would be more Republican-friendly. DiGaetano is in line to become speaker of the Assembly if the GOP retains control in November. The 36th District lost Belleville, but picked up Garfield, Moonachie, and Wood-Ridge, all of which left Ferriero and freshman Sen. Garry Furnari, a Nutley Democrat, very happy. ``My district is even more solid than it was,'' Furnari said. He had been considered one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the Senate.
``Basically, what's happened here is that these legislative changes now create three Bergen County Democratic districts'' instead of one, Ferriero added. North Arlington Mayor Len Kaiser, a Republican, broadly agreed with Ferriero. ``It seems at first blush this is pretty pro-Democrat,'' he said. ``How can it possibly be good when you throw so many Republican incumbents in together?'' The shift in Essex County also will mean Republican Assemblywoman Marion Crecco of Bloomfield will have to run in a district that includes Belleville, part of Newark, and Irvington.
Trenton Bureau Correspondent Herb
Jackson's e-mail address is [email protected].
Jersey Media Group
Fields said Democrats have proposed a map that would join Clifton and West Paterson in Passaic County with Montclair, Glen Ridge, and East Orange in Essex. That would put two black Essex Democratic incumbents, Assemblywoman Nia H. Gill and Assemblyman LeRoy J. Jones Jr., in the same district as Assemblyman Gerald Zecker, R-Clifton. Fields said Gill, of Montclair, and Jones, of East Orange, did not know that Democrats on the panel, which is operating in secret, had proposed a district in which the pair would have a tougher time winning.
``They would be strangers in the other towns, and there's a racial factor that kicks in,'' Fields said, arguing that the experience of two black candidates for Essex County executive showed predominantly white towns will not elect a black official. Gill called Fields' arguments insulting. ``I win with white votes in Montclair and West Orange now,'' she said. ``To say no matter what your credentials are or how you've performed in office, white people will not vote for you because of race ... that is a horrible indictment against the people of New Jersey.'' She said she was aware of the proposed district and was not worried. ``I can't even believe a Republican would part their lips and say I was uninformed about the map,'' she said. ``It says that black legislators are so uninformed they would be duped by their own party.''
Gill was among a group of minority legislators who testified at a public hearing of the commission last week that heavily minority districts should be ``unpacked'' to improve the chances for blacks and Latinos to be elected or influence policy. They charged that the current map herds minorities into a few districts where they have overwhelming numbers but limited influence statewide. Commission members remained silent about their inner workings, but one member, outgoing state GOP Chairman Chuck Haytaian, said the panel would not be bound by the Monday deadline. They wanted legislative candidates to have at least 10 days to meet the April 19 deadline to file petitions to run in the June 5 primary. Haytaian noted that the deadline to file was already moved once from this Thursday to April 19 and said it could be moved again.
``The constitution says our deadline is 30 days after the 11th [tiebreaker] member is chosen. I'm not going to have a rush to judgment. We will finish when we finish,'' Haytaian said. Princeton University Professor Larry Bartels was named to the commission by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz on March 27, so the panel's work must be done no later than April 27.
State and Regional
March 8, 2001
The release of new census figures means that thousands of New Jerseyans will wake up one morning this spring to discover that the people they elected to represent them in the state Legislature now represent somebody else. Over the next several weeks a state commission consisting of five Democrats and five Republicans will realign most, if not all, of the state's 40 legislative districts. They will shuffle towns in and out of neighboring districts as if playing a giant board game. The Legislative Redistricting Commission has 60 days to finish its work using the new town-by-town population figures. If it takes that long, the June 5 primary election might have to be postponed because the filing deadline for candidates is April 12.
The stated objective is simple: keep the 40 districts in balance by population, as required by law. The old counts are based on a rule of 191,000 people per district. The new cutoff is 210,400, with a 10,000-head margin of error so mapmakers can avoid splitting towns. But the objective of party officials is more complex: trade towns according to voting preference in an effort tilt as many districts as possible in their favor. Republicans and Democrats will seek to add loyal votes to protect vulnerable incumbents like Sen. Diane Allen, R-Burlington, or Assemblyman Garry Furnari, D-Essex, respectively. A preliminary analysis of the census data showed that population increased by roughly 480,000 in 23 districts represented by mostly Republicans but by only about 200,000 in 17 districts represented mostly by Democrats. "It is a jigsaw puzzle, really," said state Republican chairman Garabed Haytaian. "The duty of the commission on both sides is try to protect the incumbents the best you can."
Complicating the equation this year are complaints that census takers undercounted minorities and the poor. Critics, mostly Democrats, have argued that the federal government should have authorized a statistical approximation of the population rather than the head count to ensure that redistricting results in fair representation for urban areas. In addition to determining representation, the census numbers help decide how much government aid flows to municipalities and their residents. Some urban mayors are considering a class-action lawsuit to challenge the decision to use the head count. "It hurts all of New Jersey in terms of federal funding," said Assemblyman Joseph Charles Jr., D-Hudson.
The Democrats and Republicans on the redistricting committee will propose their own redistricting maps, then compare them and see if a compromise can be negotiated. "If we can accomplish that, that would be miraculous," he said. State Democratic chairman Tom Giblin agreed it was unlikely, but worth a try. "I try to be the eternal optimist," he said. If the two factions deadlock, as often happens, Chief Justice Deborah Poritz will name an impartial expert as the 11th voting member to break the tie or cobble together a third map that might win six votes. Once this work is finished, another commission of 12 members will realign New Jersey's 13 congressional districts. This was a tough job in 1991 when New Jersey lost a seat in Congress, but it is not expected to produce radical changes this time.
New Jersey will almost certainly not see a black or Hispanic governor for the next several years, but minority representation in the State Legislature may get a boost when district maps are redrawn this spring to reflect the latest population shifts. Members of the bipartisan New Jersey Legislative Apportionment Commission have begun looking at the state's 13 congressional and 40 legislative districts while awaiting the raw numbers from Census 2000, which are expected to be available by the end of this week.
While the primary concern of Democrats and Republicans alike is to preserve current representation, there will also be jockeying for new seats, with Republicans expecting to pick up some strength in the western and central parts of the state, where the population has mushroomed, and Democrats looking to increase the number of minority lawmakers. While Essex County lost population in the latest census, lines are expected to be redrawn to protect the seats held by two black senators, Sharpe James and Ron Rice, while redefining Senator Dick Codey's to provide him with a more suburban constituency. In Bergen County, Assemblyman Ken Zisa's seat is expected to open up when he runs for county sheriff, and the leading Democratic nominee is black. And in Hudson County, Assemblyman Joseph Charles Jr. is expected to run for State Senate, and the county Democratic Party is reported to be looking for a candidate to represent the growing Hispanic population.
''It helps bringing more minorities into state government,'' said Mr. Charles. ''Bringing all the people from all the communities into the process of lawmaking is good for the state.'' The biggest battle facing the redistricting commission -- and one with racial overtimes -- is over which set of census numbers to use in drawing up the new maps. A Republican-sponsored bill approved last summer in the Assembly would require using raw numbers -- those who actually answered the census. But that is languishing in the Senate, and Democrats and minority groups are urging the use of the Census Bureau's statistical sampling of 200,000 households, which adjusts numbers to account for those who may have been missed or counted twice.
Historically, the poor, minorities and recent immigrants have been undercounted by the head count. The redistricting affects not only legislative and Congressional representation, but also the level of financing for programs in various districts. The Rev. Reginald T. Jackson, head of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey, said that if the state chose to use the raw numbers, the Black and Latino Caucus, along with his organization, would challenge the decision. And if the state went with the statistical sampling, he said he expected Republicans in the Assembly to mount a court challenge.
Under current law, candidates
planning to run in the June 5 primary must register with the Division of
Elections by April 12, though those dates might need to be changed in
light of the expected debates. ''This is going to be a messy year,'' Mr.
Jackson said. ''We've got a gubernatorial election, every seat in the
Legislature's coming up, and we've got an acting governor. I'm going to
move back to Delaware.''.
Legislative redistricting committee waits for census figures
John P. McAlpin
February 20, 2001 The committee called once every decade to redraw New Jersey's political map may be delayed by the continuing debate over which set of census figures will be available to do the job. Democrats want to use numbers based in part on statistical sampling, while Republicans have said they want only the actual head count. Once the Census Bureau releases the figures, the state has 30 days to draw a new political map. "It's still an open question about using sampled numbers or no sampling for drawing new legislative districts," Pat Gillespie, an aide to committee Democrats, said Monday. On Friday, committee aides were told of another rule change by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Census Bureau regarding sampling. Commerce Secretary Don Evans said the Census Bureau would not have the final say in adjusting raw population numbers using a statistical method known as "sampling." New Jersey still has no final word on when or what numbers it will get, Gillespie said. Committee aides expect the census data to be delivered between March 1 and March 15. The committee - five Republicans and five Democrats - then has 30 days to redraw the state's 40 legislative districts once it receives figures. If the partisan sides don't agree - and they haven't in decades - state Supreme Court Chief Justice Deborah Poritz appoints an 11th member to break ties. After that appointment, the committee has another 30 days. The work must be done by mid-April so candidates can file to run in the June 5 primary election. This year all 120 seats in the Legislature are up for election. "We haven't got the numbers yet, so I think that's going to put a crimp in it. But I think we can do it," said Republican State Committee chairman Garabed "Chuck" Haytaian. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that sampling-adjusted numbers cannot be used in deciding the number of congressional representatives from each state. Left unspecified was whether sampling-adjusted numbers could be used to allocate federal funds or to draw boundaries for congressional districts. That means states will have the option of using either adjusted or raw census data to redraw the congressional and state legislative district boundaries. Democrats and other opponents want population figures that include some form of statistical sampling. They say the head count - or actual enumeration - undercounts minorities, city residents and recent immigrants. The suburbs, with more whites and more affluent residents, benefit by having a seemingly higher population. That gets them more representation in both the state and federal government, the Democratic argument goes. Census officials would poll state residents for the sampling, asking questions included on the familiar census forms. With those results, the U.S. Census Bureau would produce an estimated population count. A bill that would ban sampling from both legislative and congressional redistricting passed the Assembly in June, but failed to come up for a full vote in the Senate.