New Jersey Congressional Redistricting Commission tiebreaker John Wallace sided with Democrats this morning and voted for the Democratic delegation’s congressional map to take effect, likely securing safe seats for nine of the state’s 10 Democratic incumbents.
Wallace, a former Supreme Court Justice, justified his decision by saying that while both sides presented him with good maps, fairness dictated that Democrats should have their map selected after the Republican map was chosen in 2011.
“Both delegations adequately applied our standards to their map,” Wallace said. “In the end, I decided to vote for the Democratic map simply because the last redistricting map was drawn by the Republicans.”
The redistricting commission, which was made up of six Republicans, six Democrats, and Wallace – an ostensibly nonpartisan tiebreaker selected by the state Supreme Court – held public hearings throughout the fall to begin the process of redrawing the state’s 12 congressional districts before settling in a hotel in Cherry Hill last week to hash out a final map.
During their time in Cherry Hill, the two parties each conferred with Wallace separately, but did not show their draft maps to one another or share them with the public. Each delegation gave their best and final map to Wallace on Saturday, with the expectation that Wallace would choose between the two this week.
On the Democratic map that will now go into effect, three of four Democratic incumbents currently holding vulnerable seats – Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown) in the 3rd district, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) in the 5th district, and Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) in the 11th district – receive significantly bluer districts.
The changes in Kim’s district in particular are notable; the current 3rd district voted for Donald Trump by less than a percentage point, but the new version voted for Joe Biden by around 14 points.
Conversely, the map will make a fourth Democratic incumbent, Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes), more vulnerable by placing him in a district Biden won by four points, down from 10 on the current map. Under the adopted map, Malinowski may already be the underdog for re-election against Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield), who nearly beat him in 2020.
Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis)’s 2nd district, the state’s lone competitive Republican-held district, undergoes relatively minor changes and will likely still favor Republicans.
But as last cycle’s Republican redistricting commissioners can attest to, maps do not always work out as planned.
Wallace was right in saying that Republicans had their map approved in 2011, yet that map produced an 11-1 Democratic majority in the 2018 elections. The Democratic map approved today might produce a 9-3 or 10-2 delegation in the short term, but by 2030, the partisan dynamics may have completely shifted.
The Republicans’ proposed map, by contrast, would have similarly given Malinowski a more Republican seat, while also keeping Kim, Sherrill, and possibly Gottheimer in competitive districts.
Doug Steinhardt, a former state Republican Party chairman and the chair of the Republican redistricting delegation, said after the vote that the proposed Republican map was clearly superior, and that Wallace’s reasoning for siding with Democrats was insufficient.
“It’s an interesting criterion to interject into a process, picking a winner simply because they lost last time” Steinhardt said. “This was always supposed to be about empowering voters. Our map did exactly that; the Democratic map fell awfully short.”
Steinhardt also charged that Wallace, who has ties to Democratic power broker George Norcross via his law firm, was not the nonpartisan adjudicator he was meant to be.
“Justice Wallace was selected to be a 13th member, but in the end, he proved simply to be a seventh Democrat,” Steinhardt said.
Janice Fuller, the chair of the Democratic redistricting delegation, pushed back sharply on Steinhardt’s claims, and said that the Democratic map properly reflected the state’s partisanship and communities of interest.
“We went to Justice Wallace and his team with a map we were proud of, that had very difficult decisions for all of the incumbent members,” Fuller said. “I think the Republicans engaged in that in good faith with him last week as well, and it’s an unfortunate recharacterization of what happened last week [to call Wallace a partisan].”
With the map now finalized, the many incumbents and challengers running for the state’s 12 districts will have to reassess whether they’ll continue their campaigns and, if so, in which district they’ll run.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-Hamilton), whose hometown was drawn into Kim’s district, has already announced he will move within the boundaries of the new 4th district and seek re-election there, and more announcements are likely on their way.