Bench Memos

Governor Christie’s Supreme Court Nominees

The New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee will begin confirmation hearings today for Governor Christie’s nominations of Bruce Harris and Phil Kwon to the New Jersey supreme court. Very little is known about either nominee, but what has been publicly revealed has generated some controversy. A few of my NRO colleagues (Ed WhelanAndy McCarthy, and Maggie Gallagher) have weighed in with criticism for Christie. On the right, most of the attention has focused on Bruce Harris. The National Organization for Marriage is urging Governor Christie to withdraw Harris’s nomination on the basis of a letter he wrote to New Jersey legislators urging them to vote in favor of gay marriage. In that letter Harris wrote:

The New Jersey Supreme court has determined that our relationship is entitled to the equal protection guarantees of the State Constitution. . . .When I hear someone say that they believe marriage is only between a man and a woman because that’s the way it’s always been, I think of the many “traditions” that deprived people of their civil rights for centuries: prohibitions on interracial marriage, slavery, (which is even provided for in the Bible), segregation, the subservience of women, to name just a few of these “traditions.” . . .  And, if the basis of your opposition is religious, then I suggest that you do what the US Constitution mandates – and that is to maintain a separation between the state and religion.

Meanwhile, Americans for Prosperity is focusing on Harris’s legal experience and the fact that he is not a litigator. According to AFP, New Jersey President Steve Lonegan, “Harris’ résumé is bereft of any experience in dealing with the Supreme Court on any level. His history is in real estate closings. He has never even written a legal brief or argued a case before the court.” In a press release yesterday, AFP contrasted Harris’s experience with that of the justices currently serving on the court:

All of the justices currently sitting on the New Jersey Supreme Court had extensive experience, prior to their appointments, as litigators in the public and private sectors and/or in judicial service on one or more of the lower courts. In other words, before serving on the state’s highest court, they already had intimate familiarity with our judicial system, and with the types of issues that arise in high-profile cases in our state.

Governor Christie has consistently promised to break the liberal-activist stranglehold on the New Jersey courts by appointing judges who would “interpret laws and the Constitution, not legislate from the bench.” I am hopeful that the New Jersey Senate’s hearings will tell us more about whether these nominees will live up to Christie’s promises. 

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

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