Bench Memos

Chris Christie’s David Souter and Harriet Miers?

In May 2010, New Jersey governor Chris Christie declined to reappoint John E. Wallace Jr. to the New Jersey supreme court. That was the first time since the state constitution was adopted in 1947 that a governor had refused a justice’s request to be reappointed. Christie’s bold action signaled hope that he was serious about reforming the court, that he meant what  he said about having justices who “would not legislate from the bench.”

Just last week, however, Governor Christie nominated to the state supreme court two individuals who have no public record of any commitment to judicial restraint. Indeed, in announcing the “historic nominations” of Bruce A. Harris and Phillip H. Kwon, Christie instead emphasized how his nominees “capture our state’s diversity in a way never before seen in the history of the Court.” Harris, you see, would “become the third African-American to serve on the State Supreme Court and the first openly gay member of the Court,” and Kwon would “become the first Asian-American to serve on the Supreme Court and the first immigrant.” Not a word in Christie’s announcement about his nominees’ judicial philosophy.

Now it is of course theoretically possible that both Harris and Kwon are, say, passionately committed to originalism and judicial restraint and will be model justices. But Christie doesn’t provide any reason to believe that. And, in Harris’s case, that theoretical possibility is incompatible with his apparent support for the 2006 state supreme court decision requiring that all the rights and benefits of marriage be made available to same-sex couples. In other words, there’s ample evidence that Christie didn’t just take “diversity” into account but elevated it above essential considerations of judicial philosophy.

Those conservatives who have wished, on the basis of Christie’s YouTube performances, that he was running for president may be glad to have a fuller record on which to assess his qualifications.

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