Bring your Playbook Justice Wallace, Gov.Christie wants to see you

“I Won’t Back Down”

Do you think one of my favorite rock ‘n roll groups, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, had a premonition about a N.J. Supreme Court in crisis when they wrote, “I Won’t Back Down? ” The lyrics  describe the current standoff between Governor Chris Christie and the President of the N.J. Senate, Sen. Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) over Christie’s refusal to re-appoint Justice John Wallace.  In response to the firing heard around the world, Sen. Sweeney has refused to schedule the confirmation hearing  for his successor, Ann Patterson, Esquire. Give a listen…

The Background

During his campaign, Gov. Christie promised to re-make the N.J. Supreme Court in his own image . He became the first N.J. governor  to refuse to re-appoint a sitting Justice to the Court after his seven (7) term expired; and nominated Ann Patterson, Esquire, someone more to his liking, to take his place. Gov. Christie asserted the  Supreme Court overstepped its bounds in its judicial opinions by engaging in policy-making that impacted the State Budget. The Governor was particularly angered by the Supreme Court mandate that the overwhelming majority of state education funds go to thirty, mostly urban, school districts.

Give a listen to Governor Christie explain his actions

Even my Aunt Tillie had an opinion about the Governor’s actions

In the blue corner, here’s what the N.Y. Times had to say:

When Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey chose not to re-nominate Justice John Wallace Jr. to the State Supreme Court in May, it was a case of political overreach. The situation is now a national disgrace, thanks to the governor, the State Senate president, Stephen Sweeney, and Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto.The integrity and independence of the court depend on a nonpartisan process for picking justices. From 1947, when the state Constitution was adopted, until this May, every governor has renominated every justice seeking reappointment, no matter if they were first chosen by a governor of the other party. The court is one of the most respected state appeals courts in the country.

Governor Christie began a very different chapter when he chose not to renominate Justice Wallace, a sound jurist and political moderate who was the court’s only African-American. Without any basis, the governor said that the justice had contributed to “out of control” activism on the court.

Mr. Christie named a lawyer to fill the seat, and Mr. Sweeney, a Democrat, then refused to let the State Senate consider the nomination. In September, the court’s chief justice sought to deal with the problem by temporarily filling the seat with a widely respected lower-court judge. But last Friday, Justice Rivera-Soto pushed the matter over the top. He called the temporary appointment “unconstitutional,” and issued an opinion stating that he would abstain from voting in cases until a justice nominated by the governor was sworn in.

From a judge above reproach, the move would have drawn skepticism. That is not Justice Rivera-Soto. In 2007, his own court censured him for using the power of his office to influence a state trial judge in a dispute involving Justice Rivera-Soto’s son. There have been other incidents, and this latest move appears to be driven by politics, not principle.

All of the players involved need to work to resolve this drama. Justice Rivera-Soto should do his job or resign. Governor Christie should respect the state’s tradition — one that has worked very well — and renominate Justice Wallace. Senator Sweeney should rethink his strategy of matching partisan overreach with more partisan overreach. The credibility of New Jersey’s Supreme Court must be protected.

In the Red corner, here’s what the Jersey Judicial Network had to say:

December 16, 2010
By Gary Marx

Today’s New York Timeseditorial on New Jersey’s court-related constitutional crisis perpetuates the liberal mythology that has been built up to protect one of the most liberal state courts in the country. They appeal to “tradition” — the New York Times! — and say that tradition rather than the state constitution should govern who sits on the New Jersey state supreme court.

This is the New York Times version of the Brezhnev Doctrine — once a court is liberal, it must stay liberal. Well, if tradition is their new holy grail, then the Times should be attacking Justice Wallace, who is actually the tradition-breaker here. The flip side to the “tradition” of automatic reappointment has been for justices who know they are not going to be reappointed to retire gracefully. The fact that previous Republican governors kept liberals on the court reflects their principles, not the New Jersey constitution’s.

What Governor Christie is doing is exercising his clear constitutional duty and right to nominate justices to the court. It is laughable to argue that he should be bound by a choice made by a previous governor. After all, what if that previous governor had lost reelection because of whom he put on the court? Surely the Times believes in accountability for our elected officials?

Governor Christie has now exposed this liberal charade of “tradition” — as he repeatedly promised to do during his campaign. The Patterson nomination is the Berlin Wall coming down. We look forward to watching more liberal attempts to explain why it should be rebuilt.

To read more click here.

Commentary

Here’s one for you, Aunt Tillie. What scares the heck out of me is the set of brass moxie of Governor Christie in refusing to re-appoint a sitting Supreme Court Justice because he wants to nominate someone who agrees with his policies and thinking. Yes, a N.J. governor has the legal right to refuse to appoint a Supreme Court Justice when his/her seven (7) year term expires.  But, it is one thing to nominate someone who sees the world as you do; yet another to fire a Justice to shape the Supreme Court in your image.

Governor Christie could have waited twenty-two (22) months for Justice Wallace to reach the mandatory age of retirement, and then nominate Ann Patterson, Esquire. He chose to drop a bomb now. Why, because he can. Bad reason, tough guy.

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About Lawrence "Larry" Berezin

I retired from the private practice of law after a 35-year legal career and fight parking tickets for people like you and me. I love sharing valuable information and beating NYC parking tickets for the driving community

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