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New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

No consensus on congressional redistricting tiebreaker, parties say

Rabner told that Democrats, Republicans can’t agree on a 13th member for panel that will draw new House districts

By David Wildstein, August 01 2021 4:02 pm

Counsel for the Democratic and Republican members of the New Jersey Congressional Redistricting Commission told Chief Justice Stuart Rabner on Friday that they can’t help the Supreme Court avoid taking sides in the race for tiebreaker.

“There were communications between the delegation chairpersons regarding the Court’s request that the parties reconvene to make an effort to propose a single name for consideration,” Raj Parikh, an attorney for the Democrats, told Rabner in a joint communication with the GOP lawyer, Matt Moench.  “Despite these communications, the parties are unable to jointly recommend a single consensus choice for independent member.”

The State Constitution provides for the 12 congressional redistricting commission members – six from each party – to pick a 13th member to break a tie.  If no candidate received receives seven votes, the full seven-member New Jersey Supreme Court is charged with picking one of the two top vote-getters.

The two candidates are John A. Wallace, Jr., a former Supreme Court Justice picked by the Democrats, and former Superior Court Judge Marina Corodemus, the choice of the Republicans.

In a letter sent to both parties last month, Rabner asked the two parties to meet again in an effort to find a consensus candidate.  He set a deadline of July 30.

It appears that Rabner had hoped to avoid forcing the Supreme Court, which attempts to stay out of partisan politics, from having to choose between the tiebreaker candidates from one party or the other.

Without a consensus candidate, the Justices are now thrust into a partisan fight they don’t want to be in – and potentially with a national audience.  It will force the politically balanced top court to pick between the Democratic candidate and the Republican one, and while they are accustomed to taking on politically charged issues, the stakes are high.

Democrats have a narrow five-seat majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and any alteration of the congressional map could affect which party controls the chamber after the 2022 mid-term elections.

Last week, Democrats offered former Chief Justice Deborah Poritz, who is nominally a registered Republican, as an additional option.

Rabner could push the commissioners to continue their discussions this week since Friday’s deadline was not statutory.

The Supreme Court is mandated to take a vote by August 10.

The letter form Parikh and Moench kept the door open to further communications with the chief justice over the next ten days.

“We remain available should the Court wish to discuss this matter further,” they said.

While the conventional wisdom is that Wallace would have an edge in a vote among justices on a court on which he once served.

But Wallace comes with some risk that the court will be criticized for picking someone who is not entirely independent.

He practices law at Brown & Connery, a politically active South Jersey law firm.  While he mostly concentrates on mediation and arbitration, a partner at the firm, Bill Tambussi, has been the counsel to the Camden County Democratic Committee for the last 32 years.  Tambussi is Democratic powerbroker George Norcross’ personal attorney and Rep. Donald Norcross (D-Camden) is a stakeholder in congressional redistricting.

Corodemus is a Republican – her brother was a GOP assemblyman for sixteen years and ran for Congress against Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-Long Branch) in 1996.

Some people think that both sides would rather lose the congressional vote and hope that Chief Justice Stuart Rabner will look to avoid being tagged as a partisan by making a Solomonic decision: whichever party gets the tiebreaker on congressional, the other will get an advantage on legislative redistricting.  Party leaders in New Jersey typically care significantly more about what legislative districts look like.

The rules for legislative redistricting are different and Rabner may pick whomever he wants.

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