Sweeney sues to get back on redistricting commission

Former Senate President Steve Sweeney has filed a lawsuit to challenge his ouster from the commission charged with redrawing state legislative district boundaries.

Sweeney’s complaint charges that state Democratic Chair LeRoy Jones did not have the authority to remove him as one of the Apportionment Commission’s five Democratic members on Wednesday and replace him with Belmar resident Laura Matos.

Sweeney, who was Senate president for 12 years before losing reelection in a shocking November upset, is seeking to overturn Jones' decision and get a temporary restraining order to quickly get back on the commission.

The lawsuit: Former Democratic State Chair John Currie appointed Sweeney to the commission in late 2020 after delaying it for months. Sweeney’s appointment was part of a deal struck among Democrats to keep Currie in office as state chair at the time and eventually elevate Jones to the position.

“The New Jersey Constitution does not provide for the removal of a member of the Commission once appointed,” the lawsuit reads. “Further, the New Jersey Constitution does not permit the appointment or certification of a member of the Commission beyond the constititional deadlines.”

The lawsuit also charges breach of contract, stating that Sweeney signed an agreement that he would vote with the other four Democratic members of the commission as a bloc and that “the agreement does not permit removal from the Commission in absence of a violation of its terms.”

A separate brief filed by Sweeney notes that the Constitution requires consideration be given in appointments to geographical areas of the state, and that his removal means that the Democratic delegation will have no representation south of Monmouth County.

Sweeney is represented by attorney Bill Tambussi, the South Jersey Democrats’ go-to lawyer for elections and many other issues.

Context: The 11-member commission is made up of five members appointed by the state Democratic chair, five members appointed by the state Republican chair and a tie-breaking member appointed by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

Jones' decision to oust Sweeney, which he previously said he did not want to do, came after tensions between North and South Jersey Democrats in December on the congressional redistricting commission.

South Jersey Democrats proposed late changes to the Democrats' proposed map that the other Democratic members saw as narrowly tailored to benefit their political interests.

What’s next: No hearing has yet been scheduled for the lawsuit, but it will have to be resolved quickly. The constitutional deadline for a new legislative district map is March 1.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-01-28 03:36:00 -0800