Congressional Redistricting

Congressional redistricting is the process of redrawing the boundary lines of congressional districts in each state. The purpose of congressional redistricting is to ensure that each person in a state is equally represented in the United States House of Representatives by the creation of congressional districts that are as equal in population as possible so as to achieve the principle of “one person – one vote.” The congressional redistricting process occurs every ten years, at the beginning of each decade, following congressional apportionment, which is the process by which Congress allocates the 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives to each state.

The Census, Congressional Apportionment, and the United States Constitution

The United States Constitution establishes the results of the census as the basis for the apportionment of members of the House of Representatives. Under Article I, Section 2, clause 3, the United States Constitution provides that the census must be taken once every ten years, and Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment further provides that: 

"Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State..."

Therefore, before Congress can apportion the number of Congressional members to each state, the federal decennial census of the United States must be taken. The Secretary of the federal Department of Commerce and its Bureau of the Census are required to take a decennial census, or count, of the population as of April 1 of each year ending in zero, and to complete the tabulation and report the results, by state, to the President of the United States by December 31 of the same year.

Within a week after the beginning of the first session of Congress held after the census is taken, the President transmits to the Congress a statement with the number of Representatives to which each state is entitled in the next Congress. The number is calculated by "the method of equal proportions," whereby every state receives at least one Representative and the remaining 385 seats (for a total of 435) are apportioned, or distributed, among the states based on their populations. The Clerk of the House, within 15 days after receipt of the statement, transmits to the Governor of each state a certificate specifying the number of Representatives to which the state is entitled.

Both the number of Representatives apportioned to each state by Congress, and various population and demographic data from the decennial census, are used in the process of congressional redistricting in each state. The Secretary of the federal Department of Commerce and its Bureau of the Census report the census results to each state. The reports contain the population data for various geographical areas within the state, including the smallest area, the census block. Such data are used to create the congressional districts from which Representatives are elected to Congress from each state.

Congressional Redistricting Under the New Jersey State Constitution

Congressional redistricting occurs at the beginning of each decade in each state. In New Jersey, the congressional redistricting plan is created by the bipartisan New Jersey Redistricting Commission. In November 1995, the majority of New Jersey voters in the general election approved an amendment to the New Jersey Constitution to create the Commission and establish a process for drawing future congressional districts. The Commission is thereby established under Article II, Section II of the State Constitution.

The New Jersey Redistricting Commission consists of 13 members. Twelve members are appointed by legislative and political leaders from the State's two largest political parties on or before June 15 of each year ending in the number one. Of these 12 members, two are appointed by the President of the Senate; two by the Speaker of the General Assembly; two by the Minority Leader of the Senate; two by the Minority Leader of the General Assembly; and two members by each of the chairs of the two political parties whose candidates for Governor received the largest and second largest number of votes at the most recent gubernatorial election.

The 13th or independent member is appointed by a majority vote of the 12 members no later than July 15 of the same year. The 13th member must be a resident of the State for at least five years and cannot during that time have held public or party office. The appointment must be certified to the Secretary of State on or before July 20 of that year.

The State Constitution provides that, if the previously appointed members are unable to appoint an independent member within the time allowed, they must so certify to the Supreme Court not later than July 20 and must include in that certification the names of the two persons who received the greatest number of votes. Not later than August 10 following receipt of that certification, the Supreme Court must select the more qualified of the two persons by majority vote of its full authorized membership. In appointing the independent member, the Court would consider education and occupational experience, prior public service in government or otherwise, and demonstrated ability to represent the best interest of the people of this State. The Court must certify that selection to the Secretary of State not later than the following August 15.

The 13th member serves as Chairperson of the entire Commission, while each party delegation appoints one of its members as its Chairperson. The commission is required to conduct its organizational meeting no later than the Wednesday after the first Monday in September of each year ending in one.

The Commission is required to hold at least three public hearings in different parts of the State. The State Constitution also requires the Commission, subject to the constraints of time and convenience, to review written district plans submitted by members of the public. The meeting at which the plan is adopted must be an open public meeting, which must be held after at least 24 hours public notice. However, other Commission meetings may be closed to the public.

Congressional Redistricting Timeframe in New Jersey

Pursuant to the requirements of the New Jersey Constitution, the Commission is to hold its organizational meeting no later than Tuesday, September 6, 2011. Thereafter, the Commission would conduct at least three public hearings and must certify the establishment of congressional districts to the New Jersey Secretary of State on or before the third Tuesday of each year ending in two, or within three months after receipt of the certificate specifying the number of Representatives to which the state is entitled, whichever is later. Therefore, the commission is to certify a congressional districts plan no later than Tuesday, January 17, 2012.

However, if a plan produced by the commission is unable to achieve seven votes, the two district plans receiving the greatest number of votes, but no fewer than five, must be submitted to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which is to select the plan that most closely meets the requirements of the Constitution and laws of the United States.

Redistricting Principles

While the New Jersey Constitution provides redistricting standards for the creation of the State’s legislative districts, the document does not contain any standards applicable to the Redistricting Commission in the creation of congressional districts. Therefore, the process of congressional redistricting must comply with a range of redistricting principles that have been established over time through federal constitutional provisions, laws, and court decisions. Several redistricting principles must be followed, in accordance with established constitutional provisions, laws such as the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, and a significant number of federal and State court decisions.