What’s Next After NJ Supreme Court Victory on COAH

Thanks, Fair Share Housing, for keeping us up-to-date on the fight for housing opportunities for low-income New Jerseyans, and for fighting Chris Christie’s attempt to exercise more power than he’s entitled to as governor.

Promoted by Rosi.

On June 10, 2013, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that Governor Christie could not abolish the state’s Council on Affordable Housing, an independent state agency created in 1985 by the New Jersey Fair Housing Act, which requires every municipality allow a fair share of homes that lower-income families, seniors, and people with special needs can afford. Click here for a copy of the decision. This decision comes at critical time in the state’s history-while NJ faces an unprecedented housing crisis as it struggles to rebuild only 9 months after Hurricane Sandy.  

The court ruled that the State Legislature needed to provide their approval before COAH could be eliminated. The Governor attempted to shut down the agency by executive order, arguing he had the authority to restructure or eliminate COAH under his misguided interpretation of the Executive Reorganization Act of 1969. Striking Christie’s argument down, the Court noted that COAH was clearly outside of the Governor’s control as evidenced by lawmakers’ language when creating the Council in 1985, indicating that it was “in but not of” the executive branch.

Directly following the court’s decision, Christie vowed to reshape what he identified as a “liberal” Supreme Court:

“The chief justice’s activist opinion arrogantly bolsters another of the failures he and his colleagues have foisted on New Jersey taxpayers,” Christie said in a statement. “This only steels my determination to continue to fight to bring common sense back to New Jersey’s judiciary.”

Responding to Christie, Robert Williams, one of the nation’s leading constitutional law scholars and professor at Rutgers School of Law in Camden states that the decision is based clearly on what “The law says what it says” and is the “antithesis of legislators in robes, or ‘activist’ judges. Many people who lose court cases attribute it to ‘activist’ judges.”

The court’s decision is also critical because it provides the precedent needed to protect other independent agencies of the state from the Governor’s control, including the Office of Public Defender and the Election Law Enforcement Commission. That is especially important considering New Jersey has one of the most powerful governors in the nation and Governor Christie has also consistently and tenaciously taken action to further the scope of his power and control since taking office in 2010.

The Court also noted the statute creating COAH “requires bipartisan control with no more then six of its twelve members from the same political party”, further rejecting the effort to vest control in one person, and noting that “The membership requirements… ensure that a cross-section of community and State interests serve on the Council, with individual members representing different voices: local government, households in need of low- and moderate-income housing, nonprofit builders of affordable housing, the disabled, for-profit builders, and the public interest.”

Even though the Supreme Court’s decision preserves COAH, Christie’s war on the homes that lower-income people need continues. He is still trying to seize $165 million in affordable housing trust funds and find ways to otherwise undermine lower-income people having greater housing choices. Meanwhile, homes become more and more unaffordable, especially in regions impacted by Sandy, as this recent report in the Bergen Record shows. Housing advocates, community groups and municipalities will still need to closely monitor Christie and COAH’s actions.  

Comment (1)

  1. Adam Gordon at Fair Share Housing Center

    My personal thanks to everyone at Blue Jersey – from the first months of the Christie Administration til today, people on Blue Jersey have been critical to ensuring that Christie’s attempts to reduce homes for lower-income families, seniors, and people with special needs have been largely thwarted. People here were key in stopping legislation that would have gutted New Jersey’s housing laws and supporting better choices. This is a victory for all of us. We’re looking forward to continuing to work together in the aftermath of this victory on the next set of challenges and opportunities!


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