Update: And just as I post this rumors of a lawsuit surface. But the purported plaintiffs here are not Republicans, and they’re not racing to the courthouse to file their complaint. Anyone who is interested in the redistricting process and minority participation in politics should read the minority coalition’s letter to the state party chairmen, and not just the headline and three paragraph summary on PNJ. The political gatekeepers and party bosses in the state should read it as well. I’ll discuss the letter in a diary I post in the coming days on how the Voting Rights Act can regulate the election process even after the lines have been drawn.
When it comes to redistricting, the losers often sue. I’m surprised that we’ve heard relatively little so far from Republicans about a possible lawsuit. On Sunday, after the map was adopted, Jay Webber suggested that Republicans might sue to get the new legislative district map thrown out, but wasn’t very definitive about it. As of Monday, Governor Christie said that he had not yet heard of any Republicans planning to sue over the map. Perhaps Republicans are pessimistic about their prospects in litigation. Indeed, they should be, for even in the unlikely event that they win in court, they’re still likely to lose in November.
The weakness of potential Republican legal challenges to the new legislative map was highlighted on Sunday in the redistricting commissioners’ statements before the vote took place. Jay Webber claimed the map was unconstitutional because the 7th district was not contiguous. The crux of Webber’s argument? An uninhabited island, which everyone seems to think falls within the Township of Bordentown, but which Webber suggests might fall partly within Mansfield township. I have not seen any evidence supporting Webber’s assertion. Perhaps some exists somewhere. But, as I said before, everyone seems to think the island is in Bordentown Township. The Census Bureau, which released the maps that were used to do redistricting, thinks so. Bordentown Township, which collects over a quarter million dollars a year in property taxes on the island, thinks so. PSE&G, which pays most of those taxes, thinks so. Mansfield township apparently thinks so, too. Now, I know absolutely nothing about the law of municipal boundaries, and I haven’t seen any documents from the 19th century when these townships were created, but I’ve seen little to convince me that Webber’s argument was anything but a pathetically desperate last-ditch effort to sway Alan Rosenthal.
Last redistricting cycle, Republicans recruited a few black and Latino voters to serve as co-plaintiffs in a challenge under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which I’ve discussed before here. Republicans argued that the Democratic plan, with its emphasis on “coalition” districts, spread black and Latino voters “‘into districts in which they constitute an ineffective minority of voters.'” A three-judge panel of the Federal District Court for New Jersey rejected the Republicans arguments and upheld the map. more…..
There is little reason to believe that a similar Republican-led challenge to this map would be effective. But even if this map is found to dilute votes of a particular minority group, the remedy will not offer much help to Republicans. If the challenge is in a region where a single member minority-majority Assembly district is possible, but where a single member minority-majority Senate district is not possible, the court may simply split an existing district in two like a federal court did when a South Dakota legislative map was found to dilute Native American votes (South Dakota uses a similar system to ours where each legislative district elects one member to the upper house and two to the lower house). If the Hudson County configuration is found to dilute Hispanic votes, the Court will probably just rearrange the districts in Hudson County (perhaps again splitting Jersey City among three districts. Any remedy will likely be local, not statewide, and will affect only the district in question and neighboring districts. In densely urban parts of the state where Latinos are concentrated, tinkering with the lines won’t get Republicans any closer to a majority.
Likewise, even if Jay Webber’s Island Gambit succeeds, the most a court will ever do is trade municipalities between districts 7 and 8. For example, Bordentown and Fieldsboro might be moved from 7 to 8 in exchange for Westampton and Hainesport. This would only negligibly affect the district’s partisan composition and do essentially nothing for Republicans’ efforts to wrest control of the legislature from the Democrats.