New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie, known for his public battles with his state’s teachers union, is now taking on the liberal leadership in both New Jersey’s state senate and judiciary. Governor Christie decided not to reappoint New Jersey Supreme Court Justice John E. Wallace.
While a New Jersey Governor has never decided to not re-appoint a judge to the state’s Supreme Court until Mr. Christie came into power, constitutionally, Mr. Christie is allowed the privilege of doing this action; however, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, a Democrat, took it upon himself to play fast and loose with his own powers on the bench and appointed Appellate Judge Edwin Stern as an interim justice to the state supreme court.
Interestingly, though, fellow New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Roberto A. Rivera-Soto took issue with Justice Rabner’s move to appoint an interim justice. Justice Rivera-Soto, who was appointed by former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, a Democrat, made it clear on Friday he would not vote on cases until the interim justice is not on the court. In an opinion, Justice Rivera-Soto expressed why he was abstaining from giving opinions on court cases saying the Chief Justice’s interim appointment it is not needed, because the court has quorum, so, “any such assignment at this juncture simply is not necessary.”
Justice Rivera – Soto is not completely alone on his reservations about the temporary appointment made by the Chief Justice. The New York Times is reporting that another justice on New Jersey’s Supreme Court, Helen E. Hoens, has “grave reservations” over the Chief Justice Rabner’s action. However, unlike Justice Rivera – Soto, she has not formally opposed it either.
While New Jersey State Senate President John Sweeney, a Democrat, along with the rest of his Party members in the legislature’s majority refuse to hold a hearing for Mr. Christie’s judicial nominee Ann Patterson, for the state’s high court, the State Senate is now demanding Justice Rivera-Soto resign from the bench.
Gary Marx at the Judicial Crisis Network writes:
“In abstaining from decisions by the New Jersey Supreme Court, Justice Rivero - Soto is standing up in defense of the New Jersey Constitution and fulfilling his obligation to the oath of office he took when he raised his right hand. Senate President Sweeney has created a constitutional crisis by playing partisan politics with the court. Justice Rivera Soto has stood up to defend the NJ constitution and exposed the threat Senator Sweeney and his Trenton-politics-as-usual poses to justice in the Garden State.
“Senator Sweeney is playing usual Trenton games. This time it is judicial roulette except the gun is pointed at the constitution. He may or may not be able to kill the constitution, but his game certainly threatens it. Senator Sweeney has brought the high court’s entire work into question. Who knows what damage this could cause. Stop the madness. Confirm Patterson.”
Mr. Christie is indeed tackling long over-due battles in his state. This particular fight, if dragged on longer may bring about a remarkable twist in 2012, if it is not settled soon. The New York Times writes:
“The court’s majority held that temporary appointments were an accepted practice and that the court needs its full complement.
In theory, the dispute should resolve itself in March 2012, when former Justice Wallace turns 70, the mandatory retirement age. Senator Sweeney has said the Senate would consider a nomination to fill that seat then.”
Such political shenanigans from the New Jersey court is unsurprising. After all, this is the same court who allowed, despite the constitutionally set deadline, now Senator Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, to run for office in place of the scandal-ridden then Democratic Senator, Robert Toricelli, who was tanking in the polls in his 2002 senatorial re-election bid. The two dissenters of that case?—Justice Rivera-Soto and Justice Helen Hoens.