A ‘Balanced’ New Jersey Supreme Court?

by Carrie Severino

After two unsuccessful tries, Governor Christie has said that he expects to soon nominate someone to fill one of the vacancies on the New Jersey Supreme Court.  Thomas Johnson Jr. has a great op-ed in the Star-Ledger on this process, “The myth of New Jersey’s ‘balanced’ court”:

The court currently has two Democrats, two Republicans, one independent and two vacancies. Christie has promised to fill the vacancies with Republicans. But Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said recently he would hold hearings for Christie’s next two nominees only “as long as one’s a Democrat” and “as long as the need for partisan balance is recognized and continued.”

While “partisan balance” sounds like a noble aspiration, in practice this unwritten rule has more often than not served to entrench a 4-3 Democratic majority. Over the 65-year history of the modern Supreme Court, Republicans have held a sustained four-member majority only twice. Those two periods account for approximately 12 full terms (or 18 percent of the total), despite the fact that the state had a Republican governor for nearly 30 years over the same time period (44 percent).

Putting aside the decade immediately following the 1947 constitutional convention, Republicans have held a sustained majority on the court for less than four of the past 55 years. Only an Orwellian would conclude that this history reflects a commitment to “partisan balance.”

Unfortunately, as Mr. Johnson’s piece alludes, even the Republican judges in New Jersey have been mostly liberal, which has led to the court’s activist trend in the first place.

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