Harris Confirmation Hearing Live Blog

Below the fold – live blog posts from today’s confirmation hearing of Bruce Harris (in reverse chronological order).

You can also read my post-game thoughts, Bill Orr’s take on the proceedings, and the Governor’s childish rant.

3:01 PM – Scutari says the independence of the judiciary is a concern, and that’s why the recusal issue is so important. It erodes the confidence in the courts. Says Harris is a decent person, but not qualified to perform the duties of a NJSC justice. Votes NO. Harris nomination fails.

2:56 PM – Scutari’s vote coming up will be the deciding vote.

2:54 PM – Senator Gill cites an e-mail from Assemblyman Webber regarding Harris’ prior advocacy of “same-sex” marriage. Believes Harris’ recusal was political.  (Did Webber’s actions sabotage Harris’ confirmation?)

2:52 PM – Senator Gill starts off by saying she will vote NO

2:50 PM – Senator Lesniak cites Gov. Christie’s failure to renominate Justice Wallace. Says that brought into question the independence of the Judiciary. We want a Supreme Court, not a Supreme Executive. Harris’ recusal was not necessary at this time and is bothered by the fact that it was announced by the governor.Not convinced that Harris will be independent.  Votes NO

2:47 PM – Senator Pou – lack of judicial experience is not a disqualifier, but it’s essential that a supreme court justice have some litigation experience. Cites other justices and their experiences.  Votes NO

2:44 PM – Senator Sarlo. I am the mayor of a town that’s the same size as yours, and you have a nice story to tell. Having a difficult time getting over the experience factor. It’s about the total package. Votes NO.

2:42 PM – Senator Greenstein – I was impressed, but we are looking for the best of the best. We want someone whose reputation is known by the best lawyers in NJ.  Votes NO

2:40 PM – Senator Stack – You are open-minded and fair. You are a humble man. Votes YES

2:38 PM – Senator Weinberg – you have a great personal background, but this is the Supreme Court, the most important court in the state of New Jersey. Traditionally there has been balance on the Court. Also concerned about the experience factor. Still has a problem with Harris’ preemptive recusal on ME. It’s inconsistent with his other actions on other issues.  Votes NO with regret.

2:36 PM – Senator Bateman – you are really what’s great about America. Votes YES

2:35 PM – Senator Cardinale – you have the classic bedside manner that I wish all judges would display. Votes YES

2:33 PM – Senator Beck – you are an anomaly because you reached this state not by political contacts, but by your work and legal ability. Votes YES

2:31 PM – Senator Kyrillos – says he questioned Harris about the role of the legislature during his private meeting. The days of the activist court in New Jersey are numbered. Votes YES

2:28 PM – O’Toole says Harris is a decent, caring, committing lawyer. I say that not to a black man or a gay man, but as lawyer to lawyer. Votes YES

2:25 PM – Motion to move was made and seconded. Now the speeches. First up is O’Toole who says he sees a great American in Harris. Cites Harris’ education credentials (Yale JD plus an MBA)

2:23 PM – Senator Gordon is listening from the back of the room.

2:21 PM – Witness from NJ Citizen Action says that adding another Republican to the court would make it unbalanced.

2:18 PM – Senator O’Toole is asking Dixon whether he (Dixon) interviewed Harris’ co-workers and colleagues.

2:16 PM – Senator O’Toole repeats that the constitution does not require Supreme Court justices to have judicial experience.

2:13 PM – Dixon faults Harris for his lack of initiative. Asks if Harris is the best man or woman for the job.

2:11 PM – Eric Dixon, attorney, speaking against Harris. “His professional credentials mirror my own, and I would never think I was qualified to be on the Supreme Court.”

2:08 PM – Senator Buono is in the room.

2:07 PM – Tomicki tells the Senators that they are the guardians of the constitution. Says the NJSC is one of the most activist courts.

2:05 PM – Adams is testifying against the concept of separation of church and state.

2:03 PM – Next up John Tomicki (League of American Families) and Carol Adams (Eagle Forum of NJ) opposed to the nomination. Both are familiar faces in Trenton, having testified against marriage equality.

2:02 PM – Borough of Chatham bills Riker Danzig approximately $6K – $8K per month.

2:00 PM – Another Riker Danzig attorney is testifying in support of Harris. He’s the borough attorney in Harris’ borough of Chatham. Reiterates Harris’ background.

1:56 PM – Letterman says that Harris’ lack of litigation experience is also a red herring.

1:54 PM – Lawyer Stuart Letterman of Riker Danzig says he was on the committee that hired Bruce Harris. Touts his own qualifications. Says the fact that Harris never made partner is a red herring. “It’s not always the case that the best and brightest become partner.”

1:52 PM – Senator Scutari asks lawyers from Riker Danzig why Harris never made partner. They answered that Harris was doing the work that a partner does.

1:47 PM Next up – 3 lawyers from Harris’ firm. One is Stuart Letterman – didn’t get the name of the others.

1:45 PM – Lonegan cites Harris’ contention of a “mandate” of separation of Church and State. Lonegan says there’s no such mandate. Disagrees with Harris that the Constitution represents the will of the people.

1:44 PM – Lonegan points out that Harris never made partner. Quotes Tom Moran’s column.

1:41 PM – First up is Steve Lonegan from Americans for Prosperity. Against Harris due to his “thin resume” and “non-existent judicial record.” Says his judicial philosophy is “disturbing.”

1:39 PM – Harris questioning is over. Next – testimony from those for and against the nomination.

1:38 PM – Scutari – “Can you name any recent Supreme Court decisions that are important?” Harris cites a case pertaining to eyewitness identification.

1:36 PM – Senator Weinberg asks Harris to name some decisions where the Supreme Court made law rather than interpret law. Harris does not answer. Says he does not want to critique an opinion when he has not seen the briefs.

1:34 PM – Senator Sarlo asks Harris if he listened to the tenure hearings for Justice Albin. Harris said he did. Sarlo contends that Albin was attacked by members of the Judiciary Committee on some of his opinions, and says they were inappropriate.

1:30 PM – Senator Cardinale says he has been outspoken in his disagreement with Harris on “same sex” marriage. Quotes the Declaration of Independence, saying that self-evident truths are innate truths that we find it difficult to put into words.

1:28 PM – Senator Cardinale is talking about recusal. Harris is being nominated for the spot vacated by Justice Wallace (not Justice Long as Cardinale mentioned. Scutari corrected him)

1:26 PM – Senator Cardinale allows Harris to espouse on citations and awards that Harris has received during the course of his career.

1:22 PM – Senator Cardinale (a dentist) compares Harris’ specialization in bond law to specialization in the dental profession. Says we should not be “obsessed” with putting generalists on the Supreme Court.

1:17 PM – Senator Scutari interrupts Senator Cardinale stating that the Bar Association proceedings are confidential. Cardinale continues with his line of questioning, asking Harris if he thought he was treated fairly. Harris responds that it is done in accordance with established procedures.

1:16 PM – Senator Cardinale gushes over Harris’ behavior and says that Harris displayed a “judicial demeanor” at today’s hearing. Asks about the Bar Association vetting. Harris says that the proceedings are confidential, but gives an overview of the process.

1:13 PM – Harris reiterates his determination to adjudicate the law, not make the law.

1:10 PM – Senator Greenstein quotes Governor Christie’s determination to overturn Abbott and Mount Laurel – as a litmus test in selecting judicial candidates. Asks how Harris would reconcile governor’s statements as a judge. Harris refuses to address that issue. “There were no deals” with the governor to take a position on specific issues.

1:08 PM – Harris says the court’s role is not to make the laws, but to respect the will of the people.

1:07 PM – Responding to Kyrillos, Harris states “Separation of Powers is one of the geniuses of government”

1:05 PM – Senator Kyrillos is complementing Harris and talks about his own parents graduating from college at age 50. Brings up his concern about “judicial activism”, specifically Abbot and Mount Laurel.

1:02 PM – Senator Pou asserts that Harris’ ratiionale for recusal is “questionable”.

12:59 PM – Harris says that during his discussion with the governor, at no time did the lack of courtroom experience become a factor.

12:56 PM – Senator Pou is asking Harris about his conversations with the governor. Harris said they discussed “judicial philosophy” and qualifications to serve on the court.

12:48 PM – Pollster Patrick Harris and energy reporter Tom Johnson are in the audience. Is this stuff that compelling?

12:45 PM – Senator Pou asks about the assertion that Harris has been involved in $8 billion of transactions. Harris replies the number refers to loan amounts on transactions that he worked on.

12:43 PM – Senator Scutari goes back and continues to harp on Harris’ decision not to publish a particular paper while in college.

12:42 PM – Senator Beck calls Harris’ life story “amazing.”

12:41 PM – Senator Beck cites Judge Rabner’s recusal on pen/ben when discussing Harris’ pre-emptive recusal. But at least she uses the term “marriage equality” instead of “same-sex marriage.”

12:39 PM – Senator Beck asks Harris about his dealings with the Mount Laurel decision as councilmember and mayor. Harris answers that he has, but the issues are so complex that they have hired outside counsel to handle them.

12:37 PM – Another softball from Senator Beck: If your colleagues were here today, how would they evaluate your learning ability?

12:35 PM – Senator Beck asks if Harris ever had anything he sought to be published. Answer: no. I wanted to focus on other things.

12:32 PM – Senator Beck throws a softball to Harris asking him why he thinks he is qualified to be on the Court.

12:31 PM – Senator Beck cites statistics about the background of prior Supreme Court justices.

12:29 PM – Senator Beck asks if an Attorney General would be a good Supreme Court nominee. Harris again cites the 1947 constitutional debate which only requires 10 year in the bar. Harris throws it back to the legislature, saying they should make those decisions. Says his personal view is that the court should have people with a diversity of backgrounds.

12:27 PM – Harris says that tenant rights are things that must be determined by the legislature.

12:25 PM – Senator Stack (the only Democrat who voted to confirm Kwon) asks Harris about affordable housing. Harris says he has constituents who are concerned about affordable housing. He says he is not comfortable addressing his personal views on the topic.

12:24 PM – When asked by O’Toole about significant cases, Harris mentions Brown v Board of Education.

12:22 PM – When asked by O’Toole what justices he would like to emulate, Harris cites justices that have treated him with respect.

12:20 PM – Senator O’Toole rapidly lists a litany of Harris’ qualifications. Asks nominee what kind of justice will he be. Harris’ pareve answer is that he would treat each case on its merits and would treat litigants with respect.

12:16 PM – Senator O’Toole is giving Harris a lot of air time to explain the legal arcaneness of institutional loans.

12:14 PM – Harris explains collateral on international loans. I think one GOP Senator is asleep.

12:12 PM – Senator O’Toole is allowing Harris to espouse about financial transaction law – his area of expertise.

12:10 PM – Now Scutari is talking to Senators Gill and Lesniak, followed by Sweeney. Something brewing?

12:09 PM – Senator Scutari is in a sidebar conversation with Senators Kyrillos and Cardinale.

12:08 PM – Senator O’Toole asserts that Harris could have gone to Wall Street after Yale to make big bucks, but instead went to a law firm known for community service.

12:08 PM – Harris talks about his time at Yale Law School. Says he has brothers who went to law school at Harvard, Stanford, U of Chicago.

12:06 PM – O’Toole asks Harris what papers/theses that Harris wrote during his graduate work. Harris cites the fact that he was typing into an IBM Selectric typewriter when writing about models about housing starts using regression analysis.

12:03 PM – Harris: Attending Boston University for my MBA was an “eye opening” experience. Cites his course on decision tree analysis.

12:03 PM – O’Toole: “Amherst, Boston, Yale. I would want any one of those for my kids.” Gives Harris more air time to discuss his early educational career.

12:00 PM – Senator O’Toole quotes the law on recusal. Supports Harris’ position on this to avoid appearance of conflict.

11:58 AM – Senator Sarlo asks why the governor (as opposed to Harris) announced the recusal on “same sex” marriage and not other issues. Sarlo asks why Assemblyman Weber sent the email in the first place. Harris said he didn’t know.

11:57 AM – Senator Weinberg asks Harris about what the issues are that he faces as mayor of Chatham. Harris responds that the budget is the biggest issue and that they have been successful in shared services. Also mentions open space and open government.

11:54 AM – Senator Weinberg asks about the difference between Harris’ advocacy on collective bargaining and marriage equality. Harris starts out by stating that he is not a full time elected official. Harris repeats that his views on marriage are based on personal beliefs, but collective bargaining is based on his role as an elected official.

11:50 AM – Harris says his email on collective bargaining was in his role as an elected public official, but his recusal on “same-sex” marriage is based on personal decisions.

11:48 AM – Senator Weinberg quotes the Harris e-mail. It starts out “As a Republican elected official.” She also quotes Harris email on collective bargaining. Asks how that advocacy differs with his advocacy on “same-sex” marriage. Harris says he would not have sent anyone an email on his views on collective bargaining, save for his responsibilities as an elected official.

11:45 AM – Senator Weinberg asks if Harris has been an advocate for UMDNJ. Harris says he was doing a community service.

11:44 AM – On to Senator Weinberg. Asks about his work on the UMDNJ and other related Foundations. Harris responds it is mostly for fundraising for those organizations.

11:40 AM – Senator Gill distinguishes recusal decision between a sitting judge and a nominee. Harris says his decision was not a “political calculus.” Says “same-sex” marriage was not brought up by the Governor or his minions, but that Harris himself brought it up.

11:37 AM – Senator Bateman is doing the questioning. Goes back to the issue of recusal and defends Harris’ decision, saying he would not have a choice on the matter due to his advocacy.

11:35 AM – The case involves an addiction treatment center in the borough. Scutari is splitting hairs. Harris says he thought about his answer, but since it involves the borough and not him personally, he answered “no” because he is not a party to the litigation. “There was no intention on my part to hide anything” on this matter.

11:33 AM – Senator Scutari asks about Harris’ response to a questionairre regarding whether Harris has been involved in a legal proceeding. Contends his “no” response is not true. Apparently Harris is involved in depositions regarding matters in Chatham Borough.

11:28 AM – Senator Gill asserts that recusal is not appropriate when someone has advocated for civil rights. She says she is “troubled” by Harris’ prior statements on recusal for cases involving marriage equality.

11:26 AM – Harris says recusals are a personal decision and he does not want to speculate on whether other justices should recuse themselves. Senator Gill brings up a hypothetical on whether a female justice who has been active in reproductive rights should recuse herself on cases in that area.

11:24 AM- An aide just brought what appears to be a law book to Senator O’Toole, who appears to be searching for something.

11:22 AM – Senator Gill is exploring the consistency (or inconsistency) between Harris’ views on recusal for collective bargaining and for “same-sex” marriage.

11:19 AM – Harris: It is important that the public believes that the decisions handed down by the Supreme Court are based on impartial analysis. There’s a lot of “hype” in the press today about “same-sex” marriage.

11:16 AM – Harris says his recusal would be based on his past advocacy.

11:14 AM – Senator Gill is up next. She asks about Harris’ recusal about “same-sex” marriage. Harris says his decision came after much thought. Says he would not automatically vote in favor of “same-sex” marriage and would set aside any personal views. But his decision to recuse himself was based on how the public would perceive his decision.

11:09 AM – Harris says his clients would not be paying the fees that they do if the work was not complex.

11:08 AM – Sarlo continues with his dissertation/questioning. Says most of the complex transactional documents are primarily boilerplate.

11:05 AM – Harris cites the proceedings of the 1947 Constitutional Convention regarding the qualifications of Justices. Says they concluded that judges should not be a “walking encyclopedia”, but rather have the basic foundational skill to “make himself an expert”.

11:04 AM – Senator Sarlo is questioning Harris now. Talks about the confirmation hearing of Justice Albin. Sarlo says there’s a lot more to the practice of law than what’s contained in Harris’ background.

11:02 AM – Scutari quotes a Harris e-mail which Scutari contends that shows that Harris is against collective bargaining.

10:59 AM – Senators Sweeney and Kean (neither of whom is on the committee) are both in the room, working the press. Scutari asks Harris about his opinion on collective bargaining. Harris says it’s not appropriate for him to answer.

10:57 AM – Harris asserts that he will bring “experience in transactions”, something that he says is not well represented in the current court. Scutari goes back to the fact that Harris has no experience in litigation.

10:55 AM – Harris says the most important factor in his assessment is the ability to do complex legal analysis, not necessarily writing opinions.

10:53 AM – Harris says the material that he has written is not available to the general public, but that the things he did write are very complex legal documents.

10:51AM – In response to Scutari’s question, Harris says he has not written any legal opinions. Harris says he did some writing in law school (apparently not the Law Journal, though)

10:50 AM – Harris is done with his opening statement. Chairman Scutari’s first question is how does the NJSC select the cases they hear.

10:49 AM – If confirmed, Harris will be the third black justice, first openly gay justice, and first justice with an MBA

10:46 AM – Harris says his experience has given him a good legal foundation to address complex legal issues.

10:45 AM – Discussing the factors he dealt with in complex loan documents.

10:44 AM – Was sworn in as mayor of Chatham after 8 years on council.

10:43 AM – Harris says he negotiated transactions in excess of $8 billion in his 20 years of practice.

10:41 AM – Decided to specialize in public finance in his first job after law school. Said it fits with his background and MBA degree.

10:40 AM – Called his time at Yale Law School “intellectually stimulating”

10:39 AM -Met his partner Mark while attending school in Massachusetts.

10:38 AM – When the family moved to Cedar Rapids, residents circulated a petition protesting that their property values would go down.

10:37 AM – Harris talks about his early life. Father was a doctor. Lived in the DC area where his father went to Howard University.

10:35 AM – Harris is delivering his opening remarks. Thanks Governor Christie for the nomination.

10:32 AM – Back in session. Senator Sweeney is in the room (he’s not on the panel). Senator Kean is introducing Harris.

10:30 AM – Tom Moran just arrived. Can we start now?

10:27 AM – Senator Lesniak just walked in.

10:20 AM – Several other nominations approved unanimously. Chairman Scutari calls a 5 minute break to wait for the remaining Senators to show up before starting the Harris confirmation hearing.

10:16 AM – Scutari called the meeting to order

10:15 AM – Chairman Scutari and about half the panel are in the room now. Harris’ partner is sitting in the front row.

10:04 AM – Harris just arrived.

10:02 AM – Hearing was scheduled to start at this time. There are only a couple of senators in the room. Harris is in the building, his partner is sitting in the front row.

Comments (11)

  1. 12mileseastofTrenton

    collective bargaining.

    Reply
  2. Nick Lento
  3. Nick Lento

     

    …Harris totally ducks it.

    I don’t believe Christie would ever appoint someone who WOULDN’T be a judicial activist for Christie’s agenda.

    Though it’s interesting that Steve Lonegan is now trashing Harris on the basis of his ability to do the job/competence.  An insulting frontal attack.

    Looks like Lonegan wants an even more radical right winger on the court, by Lonegan’s “standard” Christie’s probably a left winger!  

    Lonegan’s had to be cut off as he tried to filibuster…and no one wanted to follow up.  That’s good.

    Reply
  4. Nick Lento

    …she actually tried to criticize Harris because he’s made assertions that there should be a separation between church and state.

    This lady interprets the NJ State Constitution in a way that says that there should NOT be such a separation.

    It’s almost funny…but these people are serious.  All these rightwingnuts are Christie supporters….and I doubt he’ll disavow and reject their support.

    Just because the most extreme right wing crazies are opposed to Harris doesn’t give him any cover….I still believe that if confirmed his rulings will be hard right, along the lines of a Sam Alito.

    Harris is clearly intellectually qualified, but that’s not good enough.

    Reply
  5. Nick Lento

    …he seems to feel that it’s ok for the NJ Supreme Court to be dominated by a single ideological political perspective.

    I wish she had the presence of mind to turn the tables on this fool who just gave away the store in the sense that he admitted that the Republican agenda is to stack the court in their favor and to make it an activist court on their side.

    If Democrats bend over backwards to be “fair” Christie will be shafting the people of NJ for decades using Harris as his instrument of choice.

    Any Democrat who votes for Christie’s tool is a fool.

    Reply
  6. Nick Lento

    …to  smack down Cardinale’s bullshit.

    Sounds like she’s gonna vote no.

    Good!

    Reply
  7. 12mileseastofTrenton
    Reply
  8. Nick Lento

    …giving politically and intellectually respectable rationales for voting no.

    But the reality is, that they’re standing up to bully boy Christie who wants to appoint someone who would be a right wing/corporate judge.

    The recusal issue alone is damning.

    I’m so proud of these Democrats for voting NO….HELL NO!!!

    Reply

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