Bench Memos

Chris Christie’s Court

A New Jersey Superior Court judge has ruled that the New Jersey Constitution requires legal recognition of marriage for same-sex couples, and late last week the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously upheld that ruling.  If you haven’t already, please read Matt Franck’s piece on the lower court ruling, and his subsequent blog post on the state supreme court.

I don’t have anything to add to Matt’s analysis of this particular case, but I do think it is worth pointing out that this series of events was about as predictable as legal policy developments get.  New Jersey’s highest court has distinguished itself as one of the most lawless in the country, taking on the role of judiciary, legislature, and chief executive on a range of issues from the state budget to the definition of marriage.
In 2009, then-candidate Christie recognized the New Jersey Supreme Court’s troubling record and made much of the fact that the next governor would have the opportunity to replace a majority of the justices on the court.  He made this promise (which is still displayed on his website):
I will remake the court and I will remake it in this one simple principle.  If you [want to] legislate [then] run for the Legislature, don’t put on a black robe and go to the Supreme Court and there won’t be any justices that I either reappoint or put on that court that do that.

So has he lived up to that promise?  Matt says that “Christie has been notably ineffective in his first term in reshaping a state supreme court that remains reliably liberal.”  I think that is a very kind way of putting it.

Governor Christie has made it clear that he has no interest in nominating distinguished lawyers with a record of adherence to traditional legal principles.  To the contrary, he has nominated a series of lawyers with no discernible judicial philosophy, and credentials indicating that the single greatest qualification for office in New Jersey is being one of his cronies.
One of his supreme court nominees sent this clumsily written letter to legislators arguing that the “separation between the state and religion” mandated by the U.S. Constitution required them to support same sex marriage.  Another one of his nominees joined last week’s unanimous decision on the subject.  Whatever your views on the definition of marriage, these people make Justice Blackmun look like a paragon of brilliance and judicial modesty.
The bottom line is that the New Jersey Supreme Court is out of control, and Governor Christie has completely squandered the opportunity to appoint highly qualified judges who faithfully adhere to the text and original meaning of the law.  Keep that in mind as the question turns to what a President Christie would do if Harry Reid stood between him and several appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Carrie Severino — Carrie Severino is chief counsel and policy director to the Judicial Crisis Network.

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