Democratic members of the New Jersey Congressional Redistricting Commission are calling a Republican legal challenge to the new map “frivolous” and are threatening to seek sanctions and legal fees if they don’t withdraw it.
The attorney for the Democrats, Raj Parikh, says that Republicans “somehow believe that their proposed map should have earned the votes of seven of the thirteen members of the commission” and said that the map drawn by Democrats and supported by the tiebreaker, John E. Wallace, Jr., “reflects policies and social science principles” advocated by Democrats during the entire redistricting process.
Democrats are also asserting that Wallace had no obligation to act as an independent member.
“The Constitution does not require the independent member to act as a non-partisan tiebreaker, but rather as one member of a thirteen-member group, with each member receiving an equal weighted vote,” Parikh wrote. “There is no requirement in our Constitution that the independent member be a registered independent, a criterion that would be essential if the position is ‘by design is constitutionally required to be immune from politics.’”
Republicans are protesting a justification by Wallace, a former state Supreme Court Justice, in backing the Democratic map.
“In the end, I decided to vote for the Democratic map simply because the last redistricting map was drawn by the Republicans,” Wallace said at the December 22 vote on a new map.
Matthew Moench and Michael Collins, attorneys for the GOP, asked the New Jersey Supreme Court, which picked Wallace as the independent 13th member, to affirm the ruling. Instead, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner this week ordered Wallace to “amplify the grounds for his decision.”
Now, Republicans allege that Wallace was conflicted out of serving in the first place. His wife, Barbara, had made personal campaign contributions to Democrats, including one member of the current delegation who was affected by the map, and accepted large donations from Democratic special interests when she ran for mayor of Washington Township.
But Democrats aren’t buying their arguments.
“Instead of acknowledging the deficiencies in their map and its principles, and apparently forgetting that the entire redistricting process was agreed upon in advance by all of the parties, the Republican Delegation instead began an immediate public politicization campaign claiming that the Commission’s deliberations and process were ‘rigged’ and unfair,” Parikh wrote in his letter to the GOP. “Smearing of the Commission’s efforts and process has included a number of public statements that are demonstrably false, including untrue claims of the ‘rigging’ of the Commission’s democratic process.”
According to Parikh, “public attempts to make it appear that the partisan delegations had not agreed to every procedural occurrence, including those in which we agreed to defer to Chair Wallace, is outrageous.”
Democrats say that the GOP has acted in bad faith and allege that the Republican filing is not in compliance with court rules and procedures.
“The complaint goes further with demonstrably false facts about the discussions of the parties, deliberations and conduct of the Commission,” Parikh wrote.
He said challenges to Wallace could have been raised in August “and not simply as part of a public and political smear campaign after failing to design a map that would gather seven supportive votes.”
On Wednesday, Moench and Collins asked the court to set an expedited briefing schedule and said that retroactively modifying the actions of the redistricting commission is unconstitutional.
“Permitting the Independent Member to essentially modify the record of a constitutionally-mandated public meeting retroactively, and outside the scope of the process set forth in the New Jersey Constitution, is unconstitutional and should not permitted,” the Republican lawyers said. “Considering it appears that the Court agrees with Plaintiffs that Chair Wallace’s reasoning placed on the record is insufficient to support the adoption of a Congressional Map, the remedy should be to vacate the adoption of the map and to remand the matter for further proceedings and consideration by the New Jersey Redistricting Commission.”
Moench said that Rabner’s order that tiebreaker John E Wallace Jr. amplify his reasons for picking the Democratic map “reflects the seriousness by which it is evaluating the Republican Delegation’s complaint”
Moench called the Democratic response “ an affront to this diligence being performed by the court.”
He asked Democrats to join the GOP motion for an expedited briefing schedule and oral argument by January 17, “which would allow this matter to be heard in a transparent manner and be submitted to the Court prior to the constitutional deadline to adopt a map on January 18.”
In a letter to Parikh, Moench suggests that if the Democrats “wish to raise any procedural objections, including trying to prevent the Republican Delegation from having a determination made on Chair Wallace’s conflict of interest issue, we will further respond to such contentions as part of proper motion practice before the Court, and not within the context of a politically-motivated frivolous litigation letter.”
This story was updated at 6:47 PM.