New Jersey Redistricting Cases: the 1990s

State v. Apportionment Commission, 125 N.J. 375, 593 A.2d 710 (N.J. 1991), consol. with Dorsey v. Florio and County of Essex v. Apportionment Commission

The issue in this declaratory-judgement action was whether the census data received by the Governor on or about January 24 and 30, 1991 from the Census Bureau was the "official decennial census" within the meaning of New Jersey Constitution. Under the State Constitution, the responsibility for drafting a legislative-apportionment plan is vested in a 10-member Apportionment Commission, which must certify to the Secretary of State a plan establishing election districts for the State Legislature "within one month of the receipt by the Governor of the official decennial census of the United States for New Jersey." N.J. Constitution, Article IV, Section 3, paragraph 1. The appellants argued that the materials received by the Governor were neither "complete" nor "official" because of a disclaimer from the Census Bureau stating that although the data fulfilled the requirements of federal law, the population counts would be subject to possible correction for undercount or overcount and that a decision to correct would be made by July 15, 1991. The appellants noted that if the figures were used to draw district lines for the primary election (held in June), the lines would need to be revised for the general election and if the Apportionment Commission waited until July 15 for possible correction, it would be practically impossible to conduct primary and general elections. The Supreme Court held that the meaning "'most naturally and plainly convey[ed]'" by the phrase "official decennial census" did embrace the data officially delivered to the Governor by the Census Bureau, and thus that data did constitute the "official decennial census" for purposes of invoking the apportionment provisions of the State Constitution.

Brady v. New Jersey Redistricting Commission, 131 N.J. 594, 622 A.2d 843 ( N.J. 1992), consol. with Save Our Shore District v. New Jersey Redistricting Commission

The State Supreme Court's ruling in this opinion involved two separate cases. In Save Our Shore District, the plaintiffs had sought an injunction from the Chancery Division barring the implementation of a new congressional redistricting plan on the grounds that the Legislature had no power to delegate its lawmaking authority, i.e. the responsibility of preparing a redistricting plan, to a special commission created for that purpose because federal law required the plan to be voted on by the Legislature and signed by the Governor. The trial court refused to grant the injunction and because of the importance the question, the high court certified it for review. In Brady, the plaintiff petitioned the Supreme Court directly contending that the plan produced by the special commission violated the act that created the commission for many reasons, all of them related to the data submitted by the commission to the Secretary of State as part of the redistricting plan.

After reviewing the Save Our Shore District plaintiff's arguments, the Court found no indication in federal law that the procedure used to prepare the plan was improper. The court held that the Legislature had the power to delegate the duty to prepare the redistricting plan and validly exercised that power. The delegation of lawmaking authority to a temporary special purpose commission was valid because there were sufficiently detailed guidelines set forth to hem in the exercise of that power, In addition, the Court also noted that temporary commissions for special purposes established by law constitute a specialized form of administrative agency and that congressional redistricting was one of those limited special purposes for which a temporary commission could be established by Article V, Section 4, paragraph 1 of the State Constitution. The Court was also unpersuaded by the Brady plaintiffs' arguments that uncorrected technical errors in the data originally submitted to the Secretary of State produced a plan that failed to achieve population equality among districts and preserve minority voting rights, and created noncontiguous districts. The Court noted that while the defendant conceded there were technical errors in the original plan, these errors were discovered and corrected within four days after certification by the Secretary of State and that the changes were not significant. As the Court noted: "we cannot imagine that [the Legislature] intended the Act [establishing the commission] to impose the all-or-nothing requirement of a perfect written transposition. The pencil that the Legislature handed to the Commission was doubtless equipped with an eraser." 131 N.J. at 612, 622 A.2d at 852.

State Contact

Frank J. Parisi
Senior Research Associate
Office of Legislative Services
P.O. Box 68
State House Annex, Room 277
Trenton, NJ 08625-0068