The Judicial Rumble in New Jersey

by Gary Marx

Gov. Chris Christie continues to fight the Left and the legal establishment in New Jersey. The Federalist Society has a new poll and white paper on the most recent controversy, which concerns the state Senate’s refusal to hold hearings for Christie’s nominee to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Christie made judicial issues an important part of his campaign, and he continues to emphasize the importance of the state supreme court in stump speeches across the state. (See this video of Christie at a town hall, for example, in which he blames the court for putting the state in a fiscal mess by mandating property-tax levels.) The governor made headlines, and defied expectations, when he refused to reappoint Justice John Wallace at the end of his constitutional term. Wallace was perceived as a liberal judicial activist, had made many friends in Trenton over the years, and was the court’s only African American. Despite intense political pressure to reappoint Wallace, Christie kept a campaign promise to remake the court by instead nominating Anne Patterson, who was more in line with his judicial philosophy.

The move angered a lot of the liberal-left establishment in New Jersey, including Senate president Stephen Sweeney, who has refused to hold hearings on Patterson’s nomination. According to Sweeney: “This seat will stay open.” The nomination has been pending since May, and, in an interesting twist, the vacancy was recently filled when New Jersey Chief Justice Stuart Rabner decided to fill it with his own appointment. In the Federalist Society’s white paper, law professor Earl Maltz argues that the chief justice’s actions violate the text and original meaning of the New Jersey constitution. In the accompanying poll, New Jersey voters overwhelmingly disapproved of Senator Sweeney’s obstruction, and embraced a number of traditional legal principles:

A tri-partisan consensus emerged: 51% of self-identified Democrats, 60% of Independents, and 74% of Republicans said they oppose the President’s postponement of a hearing for Patterson. They were joined by 52% of liberals, 58% of moderates, and 69% of conservatives. Majorities of men, women, and voters of all ages and regions of the state rejected the delay tactic. . . . . When matched up against one another, pluralities, and in some cases, majorities, of men, women, and voters of all ages and regions of the state favored judicial restraint. Self-identified Democrats preferred activism above restraint (43%-38%) while by 2-to-1 Independents and Republicans each favored restraint over activism (55%-26% and 72%-19%, respectively).

Good news from the Garden State.

Bench Memos

NRO’s home for judicial news and analysis.