We have three branches of government for a reason. They’re supposed to stay separate and equal. The judiciary should not be weakened and subordinated to the political will of either of the other two branches. Governor Christie has recently made history in a couple of ways, none of them particularly distinguishing. For example, he is the first Governor in New Jersey history to refer to school children as “drug mules” for the New Jersey Education Association and the first to suggest to…
We have three branches of government for a reason. They’re supposed to stay separate and equal. The judiciary should not be weakened and subordinated to the political will of either of the other two branches.
Governor Christie has recently made history in a couple of ways, none of them particularly distinguishing. For example, he is the first Governor in New Jersey history to refer to school children as “drug mules” for the New Jersey Education Association and the first to suggest to voters to not pass school budgets.
Yet as obnoxious and incredible as those acts are, he’s gone even farther.
Now, he is going to be the first governor to politically posture in the process of appointing and reappointing Justices to the New Jersey State Supreme Court.
The New Jersey State Supreme Court was recreated in its modern form when the New Jersey State Constitution was updated in 1947. It is the envy of many States which don’t have a political appointment process for their judiciary and which instead depend upon the mud slinging “populist” agendas of political candidates in order to fill judicial vacancies.
In New Jersey, as much as the process was never perfect – – no process ever is – – there was a respect and a decency about the judicial appointment process that every governor, of both parties, always observed. Never before, to my knowledge, has a governor of either political party refuse to appoint a sitting Justice simply because that Justice was appointed by his opponent.
In refusing to reappoint Supreme Court Justice John Wallace, Governor Christie makes history as the first governor to lower himself to political thuggery in administrating the judicial process in the State.
It was not the intention of the 1947 Constitutional framers that incoming Governors should start playing “political games” with judicial appointments to our Supreme Court and try to satisfy the whim and whimsy of voters who pay attention to serious political issues only a few times every few years.
One quick look at the Washington, D.C. process utilized in appointing Justices to the United States Supreme Court is all we really need to see to determine how badly this process goes when political litmus tests and political whim and whimsy come into the picture. The modern era of judicial appointments has been an era marked by political attacks, political posturing and nonsense.
As the outgoing president of the State Bar Association recently said, candidates for the bench should reflect “the rich tapestry of people who make New Jersey the most diverse State in the country, and they should be absolutely free to make decisions on a reasoned basis, untethered from the influence of partisan politics.”
This has never been more true than now, at a time when special interests, many of them corporately powered, attempt to politically influence not only the passage of laws for the public good, but now, through pet legislatures, the process of the administration of those very same laws.
Justice Wallace, whom Governor Christie has decided not to reappoint, has been an outstanding judge. His decisions have been thoughtful and well rooted in the law, even though there is no lawyer in the State who has agreed with all of them. He has been fair-minded and he has protected the integrity of the bench, of the New Jersey State Constitution, of the law, and of New Jersey’s people, even though 99% of them were never aware that their rights as New Jersey citizens were being protected in this fashion.
In addition, he happens to be the only African-American member of the Supreme Court, in a State with a sizable African-American population. Governor Christie’s decision to deny tenure is an affront not only to Justice Wallace, but to the Supreme Court as a body and to the judiciary of the State of New Jersey, as well as to the people of this State whether they know it or not. It is an insult to New Jersey’s image before the country as a State whose judiciary is of the highest caliber. It is an insult to everything that makes the judiciary an independent part of our three tiered system of government.
This action by Governor Christie is unprecedented in its temerity and it is not an act of which any of his supporters should be proud. If you voted for Governor Christie, you need to ask yourself whether or not you are comfortable with the idea that he is now embarking on a course that no New Jersey governor has ever embarked upon. If you validate this action and you support him in taking it, then you must be prepared for the next Democratic governor who takes office to do the same thing. No doubt that Democratic governor’s politicking will displease you, and no doubt that any Republican replacement to that Democratic governor will please you in his subsequent politicking.
Very soon, I fear as an attorney that we will have a State Supreme Court that resembles the United States Supreme Court, which has become a political animal more than it has become a place of high justice and fair justice. Justice Wallace deserved better than this, and as did his brothers and sisters on the Supreme Court and in the judiciary at large, and as did the people of this State.
Many things have frightened me as a lawyer over the last 5 to 10 years.
Many of them appear in other blogs of mine.
This act of Governor Christie’s frightens me as much as the most frightening things I’ve seen.
I challenge law makers of both political parties to call Governor Christie to task for this, and I call upon the citizens of the State of New Jersey of all political stripes to tell Governor Christie not to politicize the administration of justice in our State. Our integrity as a model of judicial fairness and ideals depends on it.