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Republican lawsuit that implicated Princeton Gerrymandering Project dismissed in court

<h5>Professor Sam Wang is the founder of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.&nbsp;</h5>
<h6>Courtesy of Jason Rhode</h6>
Professor Sam Wang is the founder of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. 
Courtesy of Jason Rhode

​​The Princeton Gerrymandering Project was listed as a defendant in a recently dismissed lawsuit filed by New Jersey Republicans over the congressional map passed in a 7–6 vote by the bipartisan New Jersey Redistricting Commission (NJRC) in December. The State Supreme Court ruled on Feb. 3 to dismiss the suit in a 5–0 vote.

The Commission’s Republican members, chaired by Douglas Steinhardt and plaintiffs in the suit, accused the NJRC’s tiebreaker vote John Wallace Jr., a former Associate Justice on the New Jersey Supreme Court, of being biased against the map submitted by Republicans. In making his decision, Wallace received advice from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, which was founded and is directed by University neuroscience professor Samuel Wang.

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Steinhardt specifically criticized Wang in a statement to POLITICO. 

“The moment hyper-partisan, Democrat Professor Sam Wang and his Princeton Gerrymandering Project were hired as advisers by the Democrat thirteenth member, Republicans and, more importantly, the millions of New Jerseyans who wanted influence in the state’s federal elections, were unceremoniously boxed out of the decision-making process,” he said.

Wang declined to comment while the suit was being litigated and declined a request for an interview after the case was dismissed.

In explaining his decision, Wallace initially told the commission that “in the end, I decided to vote with the Democratic map simply because in the last redistricting, the map was drawn by Republicans.”

Republicans claimed this reasoning was not sufficient to justify Wallace’s vote and on Jan. 5, filed a complaint to the New Jersey Supreme Court asking that “the NJRC’s establishment of Congressional districts on December 22, 2021, be vacated.” 

While the suit was being litigated, the Court asked Wallace to elaborate on his decision. In response, Wallace wrote that he and his team measured the “partisan fairness” of both the Republican and Democratic maps and determined that the “Democratic plan shows superior partisan symmetry to the Republican plan.” 

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“Upon reflection, I realize I mistakenly failed to consider my team’s evaluation of partisan fairness of the maps,” Wallace wrote to the Court. “I should have been more concerned with the fairness to the citizens of New Jersey. Simply put, I should have stated that the Democrats’ map better satisfied the standard for partisan fairness.”

State Republicans submitted a second complaint on Feb. 2, and while the Jan. 5 complaint did not list the Princeton Gerrymandering Project as a defendant, the new one did. 

In the Court order dismissing the suit, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner ’82 outlined the Republicans’ accusation against the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. 

“According to plaintiffs, the group advised and provided independent analysis of the parties’ proposed redistricting maps to the Chair during the redistricting process and breached an alleged promise of confidentiality by providing valuable feedback to the Democratic delegation,” Rabner writes.

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“Plaintiffs also allege that [the Princeton Gerrymandering Project] is supported by private donors who have contributed to Democratic officials and causes,” the order continues. 

In the 24-page court order, Rabner says Republicans made a series of allegations without explaining how “the redistricting plan is unlawful,” meaning that many of the arguments made by plaintiffs fell “beyond the limited scope” of the Court. 

“Reasonable people may differ with a tiebreaker’s evaluation of, and support for, a particular plan, but that decision is not subject to review by the Court unless the plan is unlawful or reflects invidious discrimination,” Rabner writes. “No count in the complaint, however, asserts that the final map itself is unlawful or that it is the result of invidious discrimination.”

The Democratic NJRC Delegation Chair Janice Fuller said in a statement after the Court decision that the “Republican lawsuit was absolutely meritless and amounted to nothing more than political theater.” 

“We are glad that the Supreme Court agreed with our defense and affirmed that the Commission produced a fair and responsive map that reflects the diversity of New Jersey,” she said. 

Steinhardt did not respond to a request for comment. Wallace also declined to comment. State Senator Vin Gopal and Westfield Town Councilman Mark LoGrippo did not provide comment to The Daily Princetonian in time for publication.

Sandeep Mangat is an Associate News Editor who has reported on labor shortages on and off campus, University guidelines regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, international student life, and research led by Princeton faculty. He can be reached at smangat@princeton.edu and on Twitter @s_smangat.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story inadvertently implied that the lawsuit filed by Republicans reached a settlement. In fact, it was dismissed by New Jersey Supreme Court.  

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