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Former Supreme Court Justice John E. Wallace, Jr. (Photo: Brown & Connery).

Justices pick Wallace as congressional redistricting tiebreaker

Supreme Court sides with Democrats on 13th member of panel to draw new congressional districts

By David Wildstein, August 06 2021 5:06 pm

The New Jersey Supreme Court has picked John Wallace as the tiebreaker for the Congressional Redistricting Commission, siding with the choice of Democrats for the post.

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 32 years and is the personal attorney for George E. Norcross III, a major Democratic powerbroker.

The top court was tasked with picking a 13th member of the commission after Democrats and Republicans failed to arrive on a consensus choice.

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 Court considered the two persons recommended by the Commission … and, by a majority vote, selected John Wallace, Jr. to serve as the independent member,” Clerk of Court Heather Joy Baker wrote in a certification to the state.

Associate Justice Fabiana Pierre-Louis, who served as Wallace’s law clerk,  did not participate in the Court’s decision.

The court did not release a roll call vote of the remaining six justices.

But a majority vote means that at least one of the Republicans justices — Anne Patterson, Lee Solomon or Faustino Fernandez-Vina — voted with the rest of the court to elect Wallace.   Those three were nominated by former GOP governor Chris Christie.  A fourth Justice named by a Republican Governor, Jaynee LaVecchia, is an independent and broke from the GOP years ago.

Rabner sent a letter to the commission asking that they make another attempt to agree on a candidate.  Democrats added a second candidate to their list – former Chief Justice Deborah Poritz, a registered Republican – and Republicans stuck with Corodemus.  The GOP said the Constitution was clear and that the July 15 deadline to replace candidates had ended.

The Republican redistricting chair, Doug Steinhardt, maintained that there was no option of adding names and that the tiebreaker must be either Wallace or Corodemus.

“Nothing in Chief Justice Rabner’s letter suggested that the parties could ignore the Constitutional mechanism or propose alternate members,” Steinhardt told said in a .  “Chief Justice’s letter asked that the Commission “reconvene and make a concerted effort to propose a single name for consideration.”

The tiebreaker vote could have national implications in President Joe Biden’s mid-term elections, where Republicans are just five seats away from controlling the U.S. House of Representatives.

The GOP is looking to flip the 7th district, where Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) faces Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. in a rematch of an extraordinarily close 2020 race.  Republicans would also like to compete for seats currently held by Reps. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown), Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) and Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair).

Some Democrats are holding out for gains in New Jersey to offset losses of red state House seats, pushing for a more competitive district for Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis).

Wallace becomes the first non-white tiebreaker since New Jersey began drawing congressional districts through an independent commission in 1991.  So far, all tiebreakers — for legislative and congressional — have been men.

In 1991, 2001 and 2011, the two parties came up with a consensus choice that spared the justices from having to make a choice.

Wallace is a 79-year-old Harvard Law graduate and U.S. Army captain who was nominated to the Superior Court by Republican Gov. Thomas Kean in 1984 and to the New Jersey Supreme Court by Democratic Gov. James E. McGreevey in 2003.  When he came up for a tenured term in 2010 just two years before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70, GOP Gov. Chris Christie refused to renominate him; Democrats wouldn’t confirm Christie’s replacement picks and the seat remain vacant for six years.

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