Gavel Grab

Retired Justices Speak Out on NJ Reappointment Flap

Eight retired New Jersey State Supreme Court justices have asked Gov. Chris Christie to re-think his controversial decision not to reappoint a sitting justice.

When Christie recently declined to reappoint Justice John Wallace, the governor said the court had not done enough to give the state constitution a strict reading. It was the first time since the constitution was rewritten 63 years ago that a governor had denied such a reappointment that was sought by a justice ((see Gavel Grab).

According to an article in NorthJersey.com, the eight retired justices said in a statement:

There is simply no question about the intent of the framers of our Constitution: reappointment would be denied only when a judge was deemed unfit, a standard that ensured the independence of the State’s judiciary under the Constitution.

“That standard, embraced and followed for more than sixty years, is imbued with constitutional value.”

Their statement also said judicial independence was paramount to the framers of the modern constitution, and that by “unwritten rule,” governors have kept a “four/three party affiliation split” on the court over the years.

Christie was unmoved. “My decision is final,” he said. He added that the retired justices know that “the constitution clearly vests in the governor the ability to decide who is appointed to the Supreme Court.”

As a result of Christie’s decision, for the first time  in 16 years the court will not have a black jurist. Justice Wallace is African-American. Christie named Anne Patterson, a lawyer and significant donor to Republicans, but state Senate Democrats have moved to block confirmation.

In an editorial, the Newark Star-Ledger noted the retired justices’ concerns and concluded Christie was wrong:

“Alexander Hamilton and James Madison thought judges should be immune from this kind of pressure. Chris Christie, not so much.”

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