As reported by nj.com, as hearings on Governor Chris Christie’s two Supreme Court nominees draw near, the state’s largest public employee unions say they are alarmed by a potential shift in the Court’s political balance, and Democrats are poring over new information about the pair.
In a letter to the Senate last week, the unions and other advocacy groups accused Christie of masking an overhaul of the Court by nominating a Republican posing as an independent, which they fear will tip the bench in the Governor’s favor on issues like school-financing and same-sex marriage. “We urge all senators to reject Governor Christie’s new partisan approach to court appointments and demand that he, like his Democratic and Republican predecessors, respect partisan balance by replacing at least one of the appointees,” the letter said.
For their part, Democrats said Monday they were looking closely at new information provided Friday by the Governor’s office on the nominees, Phillip Kwon, the first assistant state attorney general, and Bruce Harris, the mayor of Chatham Borough. Questions have arisen about the Court’s balance because kwon, who has been a registered independent in New Jersey since last April, was a registered Republican for more than a decade while living in New York.
In an unusual show of concerns, more than 30 organizations, including the AFL-CIO, CWA, New Jersey Education Association, signed the letter questioning the Court’s balance. “People need to know what they’re getting,” said Hetty Rosenstein, state director of the Communications Workers of America. “This is a court that will go forward for years and years to come.”
Since a new state Constitution was adopted in 1947, Republicans and Democrats have had an unwritten agreement that the seven-member Supreme Court would have a 4-3 political split. In the decades that followed, Republicans held the majority only twice, compared with the Democrats’ seven. But that tradition changed in 2000, when Governor Christie Whitman, a Republican, appointed Jaynee LaVecchia, an independent who had spent 12 years in Republican administrations. If Harris and Kwon are confirmed, the court will for the first time have two independent justices.
Critics of Christie contend the resulting court of three Republicans, two Democrats, and two independents, considering LaVecchia and Kwon’s Republican pasts, have five Republicans. Christie has made no secret of his intention to remake the Court, but has rejected arguments that he stacking the Court any more than his predecessors.