Politics & Policy

‘The Christie Type of Judges’ Are Liberal

Christie campaigns in Iowa in June. (Scott Olson/Getty)
Chris Christie’s judicial appointments have been anything but conservative. Do we want him picking Supreme Court justices?

On the most recent episode of Fox News Sunday, Shannon Bream confronted Governor Chris Christie (R., N.J.) with questions about his judicial appointments, which have been a source of significant criticism from conservatives. (Visit www.ChristieBadonJudges.com for a summary of that criticism.) Christie did his best to spin his record, asserting that “what I did was I got three conservative Republicans in exchange for one Democrat.” According to the governor:

If we had those kind of justices and more of them we would not have had the same-sex marriage decision that we had last week and we wouldn’t have had the Obamacare decision. So, if the Christie type of judges had been on that court in the majority, we would have won those cases in the Supreme Court rather than lost them.

And, as usual, he threw in the obligatory insult: “Those folks haven’t watched New Jersey closely.”

Unfortunately, we have been watching New Jersey, and it’s been a train wreck. We were watching, for example, when Governor Christie endorsed Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. More to the point, we were watching when he ran for governor on a promise to remake New Jersey’s Supreme Court, which had earned a reputation as one of the most lawless in the nation. As he put it then: “I want someone who is extraordinarily bright and I want someone who will interpret laws and the Constitution, not legislate from the bench.”

Since then, Christie has had the opportunity to fill five seats on the court. But instead of nominating judges with a proven record of following the Constitution and traditional legal principles, and fighting for those nominees, he nominated liberals and cronies. There was not a shred of evidence that any one of them subscribed to the legal principles that Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito have been fighting for. As a consequence, the New Jersey Supreme Court remains strongly liberal.

#related#In 2013 the New Jersey Supreme Court, including two Christie appointees, handed down a unanimous decision in favor of same-sex marriage. As if that didn’t say enough about what Christie’s “kind of justices” would do on the issue of same-sex marriage, Christie tried to appoint another justice whose views on the issue were even clearer. Bruce Harris — whose nomination was ultimately rejected by the state senate after he acknowledged that he had no courtroom experiencewas known mainly for writing a letter to legislators in which he argued that opposing same-sex marriage is analogous to supporting “slavery, (which is even provided for in the Bible), segregation, the subservience of women, to name just a few of these ‘traditions.’” According to Harris, “if the basis of your opposition is religious, then I suggest that you do what the U.S. Constitution mandates — and that is to maintain a separation between the state and religion.”

So it’s true that a Supreme Court populated by Christie nominees might have voted differently in the Obergefell case: The vote might have been unanimous.

It’s true that a Supreme Court populated by Christie nominees might have voted differently in the Obergefell case: The vote might have been unanimous.

But the damage the New Jersey Supreme Court has done has not been limited to same-sex marriage. In 2013, two of his appointees joined a unanimous decision opening the floodgates to class actions by applying a very broad interpretation to a state consumer-protection law. Similarly, in 2014, three of his appointees joined a unanimous decision making New Jersey an even more favorable environment for class actions by holding that contracts have to expressly waive court rights even if they have a clear and express arbitration clause. It’s almost as if Christie’s nominees want more class-action litigation in New Jersey.

One of the appointees that Christie describes as ”conservative,” Lee Solomon, arrived with no discernible judicial philosophy or track record, save a previous endorsement from New Jersey Right to Choose for opposing parental notification for minors seeking abortion. In exchange for Solomon, Christie agreed to reappoint the liberal chief justice, one of the most powerful Democratic figures in New Jersey and the person responsible for deciding which lower-court judges are elevated to the state’s intermediate appellate courts. Christie touts this as a deal, a demonstration of his ability to work across the aisle. But it was more like a hustle, with Chris Christie getting outworked and outsmarted by Democrats who recognized that he had lost interest in fighting on the issue.

Governor Christie now has his sights set on the White House, at a time when the next president is likely to make as many as three U.S. Supreme Court appointments, providing an opportunity to remake that court for a generation. Conservatives will want to know what steps he will take to avoid nominating the next John Roberts or Anthony Kennedy. If he keeps lying about his judicial record, we will know just how committed he is to “telling it like it is.”

— Carrie Severino is chief counsel and policy director to the Judicial Crisis Network.

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