In a blow to New Jersey Republicans, the two tiebreakers on the panel that will draw congressional and legislative districts will use the Princeton Gerrymandering Project as redistricting advisors.
The move by two retired justices named as tiebreakers — former Supreme Court Justice John Wallace for congressional and former Superior Court Judge Philip Carchman for legislative – to retain a group with a clear redistricting ideology might tip the process in favor of Democrats as the GOP looks to flip control of the U.S. House of Representatives in next year’s mid-term elections.
“The team is pleased to assist these leaders in their roles, by providing technical support and data analysis,” the Princeton Gerrymandering Project said on Tuesday. “However, because of this, we will not be providing grades or other data metrics on maps produced in New Jersey until after the 2022 election for Congressional maps and the 2023 election for state legislative maps.”
The organization has waded into other states this year, awarding a failing grade to maps in Texas, Maryland, North Carolina and Florida.
The group is headed by Samuel Wang, a Princeton neuroscience professor with an interest in the statistical analysis of elections and “systematic distortions in representation in the U.S. House.”
Wang has stated that he looks for qualities “separately and independently: partisan fairness, racial fairness, competitiveness, geography, and also consider communities of interest.”
The Princeton Gerrymandering Project is non-partisan and seeks to end partisan gerrymandering at a state level. Wang is hugely respected in academic circles but has some partisan ties. He has contributed mostly to Democrats running for federal office. His donations include $500 each to the presidential campaigns of Elizabeth Warren and Barack Obama.
Republicans had believed that the selection of former judges rather than academics would give them a tiebreaker who was not predisposed to ideological and political viewpoints. Since the first court-appointed tiebreaker was named in the 1960s, only academics had occupied the post.
The GOP had seen the selection of Carchman, a Democrat, as a signal that the tiebreaker would act on merits and arguments of the various proposals.
Chief Justice Stuart Rabner picked Carchman, a former administrative director of the courts and state appellate court judge, as the 11th tiebreaking member of the state’s Legislative Apportionment Commission.
Carchman, 79, was not among the 11 candidates submitted by Democrats and Republicans in August. Because the two parties could not agree on a final member, they asked Rabner to appoint an independent member to the commission instead.
In early August, the Supreme Court chose John Wallace as the tiebreaking member of the Congressional Redistricting Commission, which similarly experienced a deadlock between the two parties. Wallace 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 32 years and is the personal attorney for George E. Norcross III, a major Democratic powerbroker.
The State Constitution requires the Supreme Court to pick between the top two vote-getters, Wallace and Republican Marina Corodemus, a former Superior Court Judge.
The Supreme Court was required to choose a tiebreaker from the two candidates submitted by the parties; for legislative redistricting, Rabner was unfettered in whom he could choose.
It is also unprecedented that the two separate mapmaking panels would use the same staff.