New congressional districts for 2008? In New Jersey, you never know

New Jersey’s thirteen congressional districts could be redrawn for the 2008 general election, although that is not likely to happen.

The Congressional Redistricting Commission appointed in 2001 to reapportion districts after the 2000 census is currently inactive, but has not expired. A majority of the members of the commission could conceivably call a special meeting and create a new map.

Experts say that because the New Jersey State Constitution is silent regarding the discontinuation of the commission, it is unclear as to legal authority of the mapmakers to meet after the plan is certified. Since the New Jersey Supreme Court often grants authority even when the law is clear, some insiders believe the map could be redrawn.

In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution did not prohibit states from redrawing districts in mid-decade, even when the motivation is for partisan advantage. In 2003, then-House Majority Leader Thomas DeLay led a move to redraw congressional districts in Texas to help the GOP pick up seats.

In New Jersey, Democrats could look to alter the seventh district, where Republican Congressman Michael Ferguson was re-elected last year by a narrow 49%-48% margin over Democratic Assemblywoman Linda Stender in a district that added a large number of Republican voters in the last redistricting.

Some simple tinkering of the lines could help the Democrats oust Ferguson next year. For example, Democrat Frank Pallone’s sixth district could swap the heavily Democratic city of Plainfield for Republican-leaning towns of Clark, Winfield and most of Westfield. And the tenth district, represented by Democrat Donald Payne, could trade Democratic areas like Hillside and Union for Republican areas like Summit and Mountainside. Neither situation would endanger the re-election of the Democratic Congressmen.

Democrats could also look at improving their chances at picking up other seats by adding Democratic towns to districts currently represented by Republicans Frank LoBiondo or James Saxton, for example.

Similarly, Republicans could seek to add Republican votes to Ferguson's district, or make Democrat Rush Holt's twelfth district more competitive.

The Congressional Redistricting Commission members are: Democrats Karen Brown (now the Passaic County Clerk), former State Senator and Democratic State Chairman James Dugan, former Attorney General Zulima Farber, former AIPAC Chairman Lionel Kaplan, former Assembly Democratic Executive Director Frank Robinson, and Camden City Councilwoman (and State Senate candidate) Dana Redd; former Commissioner of Community Affairs Leonard Coleman, former Republican State Committee Co-Chairwoman Candace Straight, Somerset County GOP Chairman Dale Florio, Ocean County GOP Chairman George Gilmore, former Commissioner of Banking and Insurance (and Assemblywoman) Elizabeth Randall, and former Assemblyman Gary Stuhltrager are the Republican members. The Chairman is Alan Rosenthal, a Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at the Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University. New congressional districts for 2008? In New Jersey, you never know