A bid by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner to get Democrats and Republicans to agree on a tiebreaker for congressional redistricting is blowing up into a fight before the process to draw new districts has even started.
Doug Steinhardt, the GOP redistricting chairman, has blasted Democrats for signaling Rabner that they would be willing to accept former Chief Justice Deborah Poritz as a possible candidate.
“What appears to be happening now is that your caucus read the same press reports that we did, reports that questioned Justice (John) Wallace’s potential impartiality, and that you have seized on the Constitutional crisis facing the Supreme Court as an opportunity for a ‘second bite at the apple,’” Steinhardt wrote in a letter to his Democratic counterpart, Janice Fuller, obtained by the New Jersey Globe.
Wallace, a retired Supreme Court Justice, works at a politically potent South Jersey law firm with close ties to Democratic powerbroker George Norcross, Brown & Connery. Bill Tambussi, a partner at the firm, has been the counsel to the Camden County Democratic organization for more than 30 years.
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.
In a letter sent to both parties last week, Rabner asked the two parties to meet again to see if there was a consensus candidate.
Steinhardt maintains that the redistricting commission “is bound by the process set forth in the Constitution and alternate names are neither permitted nor necessary.”
Steinhardt complained that he was “confused and troubled” that Rabner was copied on a letter proposing Poritz, and by the “swiftness” by which their email made its way to the press.
“How you and your colleagues derived from his words the opportunity to taint the process with a second nominee is disheartening to me and my colleagues,” Steinhardt said. “We proposed Judge Marina Corodemus in good faith and after careful consideration, research, and investigation. We arrived at our nominee after a process agreed upon by both our respective caucuses, which included exchanging a group of names between lawyers first, to determine if there was a match, and then convening to vote on individual names in the event there was not. It was from that process that Judge Corodemus and Justice Wallace were selected and presented to the Supreme Court.”
Steinhardt maintains that there is no option of adding names and that the tiebreaker must be either Wallace or Corodemus, a former Superior Court Judge.
“Nothing in Chief Justice Rabner’s letter suggested that the parties could ignore the Constitutional mechanism or propose alternate members,” Steinhardt told Fuller. “Chief Justice’s letter asked that the Commission “reconvene and make a concerted effort to propose a single name for consideration.”
According to Steinhardt, attorneys for both parties swapped named to see if there was a match, but that his lawyer, Matthew Moensch, did not disclose the other names on the Democratic list.
Both the New Jersey Globe and POLITCO reported that Poritz was on the list of tiebreakers proposed by the Democrats – former Justice Virginia Long was the third.
“To propose her proposal now is neither new nor offered in the spirit in which it is being portrayed: as a compromise name for the parties to consider,” said Steinhardt, a former GOP state chairman.
Steinhardt said Republicans wiling to take Rabner’s suggestion to hold another meeting before July 30, saying he welcomed “the opportunity to debate the merits of Justice Wallace and Judge Corodemus.”
“We will speak to Judge Corodemus’ credentials and unique characteristics and are prepared to listen to your caucus members as to why they believe Justice Wallace is better suited for that role,” Steinhardt said.