Now that legislative redistricting is over and candidates for all 120 seats in the state Legislature are preparing for next month’s primary, it’s time for the state’s congressional delegation to take its turn on the hot seat.
Like legislative redistricting, the congressional lines are redrawn every 10 years, with the number of seats dictated by the decennial census numbers. This time around, New Jersey will lose one of its 13 seats, leaving one sitting member of the House of Representatives without a job when the music stops.
Like the legislative reapportionment commission that recently completed its own frenetic redistricting, the make-up of the congressional team is dictated by the Constitution.
And while the Constitution requires sets of members to be chosen by various party officials, it is set up so this year each side will get six members on the commission. (Two are chosen by the Senate president, two by the Assembly speaker, two each by the Assembly and Senate minority leaders, two by the state chairman of the party whose candidate won the last gubernatorial election and two by the party that fielded the runner-up)
In a twist that sets it apart from the legislative reapportionment process, the so-called tie-breaking member is voted on by the 12-member commission. If seven members of the commission can agree on a name, the 13th member is certified and the commission moves forward.
If the commission can’t agree on the 13th member, the two highest vote getters get kicked up to the Supreme Court for the deciding vote. Unlike in the legislative process when Chief Justice Stuart Rabner was solely responsible for the choice, the 13th member is chosen by a majority of the court.
Rutgers Professor Alan Rosenthal, who served as the 11th member of the legislative redistricting team, was the tie-breaking vote in both 1991 and 2001.
The deadline for the naming of each side’s team is June 15 and must be certified to the Secretary of State by July 1. The 12 members have until July 15 to vote on the 13th member and the vote must be certified to the Secretary of State by July 20.
If they can’t agree, they must certify that to the Supreme Court by July 20 along with the names of the top two vote-getters. The court then has until Aug. 10 to vote and must certify its decision to the Secretary of State by Aug. 15.
According to the Constitution, the court must choose the candidate “more qualified by education and occupational experience, by prior public service in government or otherwise, and by demonstrated ability to represent the best interest of the people of this State, to be the independent member.”
Once the commission is in place, it will have until Sept. 7 to hold its first meeting. From that point on, meetings may be called by any seven members and seven members represent a quorum of the committee.
The deadline to vote on the new congressional districts is Jan. 19 – the third Tuesday of the new year. By that date, one map must receive seven votes in an open public meeting. If neither side’s map gets the required seven votes, the Constitution calls for the Supreme Court to choose between the two maps that received the most votes.
The Constitution also calls for three public hearings of the commission but also allows the commission to meet behind closed doors.
Let the games begin.