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Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bob Hugin campaigns in Rutherford on September 3, 2018. New Jersey Globe Photo.

Hugin hints willingness to fund GOP redistricting lawsuit

Proposed constitutional amendment could affect county, municipal districts

By David Wildstein, July 16 2020 1:42 pm

Republicans are likely to launch a legal challenge to a proposed constitutional amendment that will preserve the 2011 legislative redistricting map for another two years if the Democratic-controlled legislature moves forward with their plan.

Bob Hugin, who spent more than $36 million of his own money to win a U.S. Senate seat two years ago, has telegraphed a willingness to help fund what could be an expensive fight through the federal court system.

“The Constitution requires everyone to be counted and redistricting to occur so that fair representation exists at all levels of government. Creating a system where voters could be disenfranchised for the sole purpose of incumbency protection would fly in the face of that principle,” Hugin said. “I am confident if this went to court, those seeking equal representation and fairness from the system would be able to find the resources they need.”

Democratic legislative leaders want to use a delay in certifying data from the 2020 census to extend the current map for Senate and Assembly districts until 2023.

Republicans think they can win an argument in federal court that extending old maps to 2023 violates the U.S. Supreme Court’s one-man, one-vote decision and that a panel of judges might mandate a 2022 legislative election – or even impose a map drawn by Republicans.

The other new information emerging is that Republicans could ask federal judges to simply order all levels of government to redraw maps and run again in 2022 whether their terms are up or not.

The argument some Republicans make is that any map, including freeholder districts or municipal wards, drawn off the 2010 census needs to expire concurrent with the certification of the 2020 census.

The U.S. Census Bureau told New Jersey officials that they should expect new data by June 17, 2021, according to the Office of Legislative Services.

Among the unintended consequences for New Jersey, if Republicans were to prevail in a federal court challenge: district freeholders elected in Essex and Hudson counties in 2020 for a three-year term could theoretically be ordered to redraw their districts and run again in 2022 instead of 2023.

That won’t help Republicans – the GOP hasn’t won an Essex district freeholder race since 2003 and a Hudson one since 1984 – but it could cause chaos for county Democratic organizations who might be forced to defend seats in a primary election held in a federal election year, rather than a lower-turnout 2023 primary.

Also at risk: court-ordered new elections for ward city council seats in Jersey City, East Orange, Franklin, Monroe, Linden, Old Bridge, Plainfield, Toms River, and Wayne.

When Republicans challenged a 1982 congressional redistricting plan approved by the Democratic-controlled legislature during the final days of Gov. Brendan Byrne’s term — this was before a separate commission existed — a panel of federal judges overturned the map and picked their own for the 1984 and the rest of the decade.  That led to the defeat of popular 11-term Rep. Joseph Minish (D-West Orange), who suddenly found himself running in heavily-Republican Morris County.

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