The NJ Supreme Court’s 2010-11 term opens tomorrow. With Chief Justice Rabner’s assignment of Edward Stern (D) to Associate Justice, there are now 4 Democrats, 2 Republicans and 1 Independent on the court. This make up could change substantially in 2012. Justice Stern is temporarily filling the position of John Wallace (D) whom Governor Christie did not resubmit for tenure, as customary, when his initial 7-year term expired earlier this year. Instead Christie selected Anne M. Patterson (R) as a replacement, and Senate President Sweeney declared the nomination dead on arrival.
Beyond the unknowns of death, resignation, impeachment, or some form of political intervention, such as the Senate changing its mind and deciding to confirm Patterson, below are key dates which signal change in personnel and/or political affiliations of the court’s membership.
Sep 2011 – Roberto Rivera-Soto (R), initial 7-year term expires.
Mar 2012 – John Wallace (D), mandatory retirement age, with seat temporarily assigned to Edward Stern (D).
Mar 2012 – Virginia Long (D), mandatory retirement date.
Jul 2013 – Helen Hoens (R), initial 7-year term expires.
Jun 2014 (after expiration of Christie’s current term) – Chief Justice Rabner (D), initial 7-year term as Chief Justice expires.
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The resubmission by Christie of Rivera-Soto (R) and Helen Hoens (R), or selection of other Republicans, would not change the make up of the court. However, with the reaching of mandatory retirement age for Virginia Long (D) and John Wallace (D), and with Christie selecting Republican nominees, the make up would change to 4 Republicans, 2 Democrats, and 1 independent in 2012. Further change could occur after the expiration of Christie’s first term with Chief Justice Rabner’s (D) expiration of his initial 7-year term. Other scenarios could be postulated, including the Senate insisting that one of the nominees be a Democrat. Also, how a justice votes is not pre-ordained, but 2012 looks to be the year with a majority of Republicans on the Supreme Court and with a significant downside for progressive rulings.