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Gov. Christie and the Fight over Judicial Reform

Chris Christie’s fights with the teachers’ unions in New Jersey have been well documented in the national press and conservative blogosphere.  However, Christie has been engaged in another, possibly more significant fight over reforming the New Jersey Supreme Court that has, until now received relatively scant amounts of national attention. As detailed in the New York Times and the WSJ ($), the fight erupted in May when Christie exercised his (admittedly seldom-used) prerogative to not re-appoint the liberal John E. Wallace to the New Jersey State Supreme Court. 

As we have seen all too often at both the State and Federal level, liberals view the judiciary as a useful tool to undo anything they don’t like which is done by the legislature or, in this case, the governor. Therefore, Christie’s (absolutely legal) attempts to change the composition of the court were seen as a direct threat to their most sacred institution. Accordingly, the New Jersey Senate, led by Democrat Stephen Sweeney, refused to allow a vote to confirm Anne Patterson, Christie’s nominee to replace Wallace. Thus far everything that had occurred in this fight could be chalked up to political posturing.

However, New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner then took a step which raised the specter of possible coordination between Rabner and Sweeney by unconstitutionally elevating Edwin Stern, a Court of Appeals judge to the New Jersey Supreme Court (thus bypassing Christie’s right to nominate the next appointee, and the Senate’s vote on confirmation of that nominee), despite the fact that the New Jersey Supreme Court had a five-member quorum even in Wallace’s absence.  This naked power grab was so appalling that McGreevey appointee Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto stunned observers on Friday by noting, at the end of a published opinion, that he would be abstaining from all decisions as long as Stern remained on the Court.  Now, as highlighted above, the national media is starting to take notice of this incredible story as it plays out in New Jersey.

In typically Orwellian fashion, the New Jersey Democrats have accused Christie throughout the process of playing politics with the Court. Justice Rivera-Soto has exposed very plainly that it is really Sweeney (working hand in hand with Rabner) and the rest of the New Jersey Democrats who are playing politics with Justice.

Many who are watching Christie with a view towards a possible Presidential run in 2012 or 2016 have some concerns about Christie on socially conservative issues. If Gov. Christie displays a willingness to fight for conservative judicial nominees with the same fervor that he fights against corrupt unions, that would go a long way towards allaying all those fears. Let’s hope that Christie does the right thing, and shows the way to the slough of new GOP governors who were elected this year.

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