The New Jersey Supreme Court has denied certification to a challenge to Gov. Chris Christie’s timetable for a special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat of the late Frank Lautenberg.
Their decision means the Appellate Division’s ruling that the Governor’s special election scheme is not illegal and stands as the final judicial determination on the merits of the Democratic plaintiffs’ claims. The seat is currently held by Christie’s appointment by Republican Jeff Chiesa, who was sworn in June 10 and will remain in the seat until he is replaced by election.
Since he became governor, lawyer Chris Christie has distinguished himself – and generated national news – by politicizing the NJ Supreme Court, a court the people should be able to expect to be above partisan politics. The effect has been to diminish the integrity of the court, and its independence. Since Christie made national news by failing to renominate Justice John Wallace – as every governor has with every justice seeking renomination since the NJ Constitution was adopted in 1947 – it is not hard to wonder if there’s fear in the Court that a politically maneuvering Governor Christie would punish a justice for going against his wishes when it comes time for renomination. One can only speculate.
The brief was filed by Peg Schaffer, Somerset County Democratic Chair and an attorney, on behalf of plaintiffs Giusseppe Grillo, Joseph Danielsen and LD-16 Assembly candidate Marie Corfield, a Democrat who nearly won a challenge to GOP Asw Donna Simon in November and is running again in this cycle. The case cited the plaintiffs cited a little-known 1915 NJ law addressing U.S. Senate vacancies, that held that unless a vacancy occurred before the next election, it should be filled at the closest general election. And that would be the one already scheduled in November. The law was drafted to avoid the cost of special election. The non-partisan Office of Legislative Services (OLS) estimates the October special election will cost $12 million, with that cost to slide up if Christie rents extra voting machines, and hires extra workers as his administration says is likely.
Gov. Christie has defended his choice in the days since he made it, particularly following several newspaper opinion and analysis pieces that called his timetable, in essence, self-serving at the taxpayers’ expense. Christie himself benefits by settling the Senate choice in a separate election; that keeps the battle between 4 well-known Democrats (particularly frontrunner Cory Booker) off the same ballot he appears on in November, and keeps the Democrats drawn to the polls for the Senate choice out of the polls when he’s on the ballot. In essence, Christie’s is a sly effort to ensure the biggest landslide he can for himself, a showy accomplishment for a GOP White House hopeful to make for GOP 2016 voters interested in who can win in a blue state.
John Hoffman is Acting Attorney General, appointed on the same day Jeff Chiesa left that position to be sworn in as U.S. Senator. Hoffman disputed the plaintiffs; claim of harm to the voters, and reasserted, as Christie has this week, that the law allowed him to make this decision.
On Monday, DeForest “Buster” Soaries wrote to Christie, urging him to reconsider his special election timetable, saying the principles of democracy are not well served by holding two elections just three weeks apart. Soaries was Secretary of State (in NJ, the Secretary is Chief Elections Officer) under GOP Gov. Christie Whitman and is a former chair of the federal Election Assistance Commission, appointed by George W. Bush.
Under the leadership of Sen. Shirley Turner, panels in both houses of the Legislature this week approved measures to move the November gubernatorial & legislative election to October.