Appeals court lets redrawn districts stand

Judges rejected a challenge by a tea party group and others who said the lines favor Democrats.

Posted: September 12, 2012

TRENTON - A New Jersey appeals court on Monday unanimously rejected a challenge to the state's legislative map by a tea party group and others who said it violated the state and U.S. Constitutions and gave an unfair advantage to Democrats.

The map was approved by a 6-5 vote in April 2011 after a panel of five Republicans and five Democrats voted for competing maps. The tie-breaking vote was cast by Rutgers University political science professor Alan Rosenthal, who sided with the Democrats' version.

The following month, a lawsuit was filed by a group of plaintiffs identifying themselves as the Bayshore Tea Party Group, along with registered Democrats, Republicans, and independents.

It contended the new map splits up counties unnecessarily and gives voters in less-populous northern districts more weight than voters in more-populous southern districts.

The map seeks to "carry out a scheme of unlawful political and partisan gerrymandering" to "lock in incumbents and the dominance of the Democratic Party" for the next decade, according to the court filing.

In Monday's ruling, the appellate panel wrote that courts previously have ruled that there is no requirement to keep counties intact for purposes of legislative districting and no standard for dividing overpopulated and underpopulated districts between northern and southern New Jersey.

Barbara Gonzalez, founder of the tea party group, said Monday she was reviewing the ruling to determine whether the plaintiffs would appeal to the state Supreme Court.

"We don't care if it ends up leaning one way or the other, as long as it is done the way the Constitution says it should be done," she said of the redistricting process.

The contentious process of drawing a new map is done every 10 years following the U.S. Census.

Last year's decision was a blow to Gov. Christie, who had spent three days at the hotel where the panel had been meeting in an effort to help Republicans present their case to Rosenthal.

Republicans had sought a map that more heavily concentrated minority voters, carving out two Hispanic-majority and two black-majority districts. They said it gave minorities a better shot at electing one of their own. They also argued that the Democrats' map generally had more people in southern Jersey districts than in northern areas.

Democrats said their map was fair and created more competitive districts. In the end, a coalition of minority groups endorsed the Democratic map, saying that overall it provided substantially more "minority opportunity" districts.

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