Author Archive: the_promised_land

Supreme Court: Proceed With Great Caution

In the wake of a torrent of news and opinion about Governor Christie’s nominations of Bruce Harris and Phillip Kwon for the New Jersey Supreme Court, we have a message for Governor Christie: Thank you for bucking the trend of your party and recognizing the need for people of all backgrounds to serve in positions of power. And we have a message for the State Senate: Proceed with great caution.

Governor Christie deserves credit for nominating Harris, the gay, African-American mayor of Chatham, and Kwon, a Korean-American immigrant who has served with Christie as a prosecutor and in his Attorney General’s office. At a time when the Republican Party has become at a national level reflexively anti-LGBT, prone to offensive stereotypes of African-Americans, and virulently anti-immigrant, Christie has sent a message with his nominations that people of color and LGBT people have a place in the highest echelons of government. That message follows on Christie’s strong defense of his Superior Court nominee Sohail Mohammed against Republican critics of Muslims becoming judges.

But we also need to put Christie’s actions in context. As the Philadelphia Inquirer pointed out recently, the all-white composition of the current New Jersey Supreme Court was Christie’s own doing, after his unjustified booting of Justice John Wallace and his failure to replace retiring Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto with another Latino justice. And Christie’s homogenization of the state’s courts has extended to the trial courts, where the vast majority of people interacting with the court system end up. According to the latest official report of the Supreme Court Committee on Minority Concerns (at p. 125):

Prior to the current Committee report, the consistent long-term trend was towards greater representation of minorities among Superior Court judges. . . . The number of Black/African American trial judges has decreased significantly (-11) while the number of Hispanic/Latino judges in the trial division has remained the same since the last report.  There has been no change in the representation of Asian/Pacific Islander/American Indian judges in the trial courts (1)

And of course Christie has nominated Harris in the same week that he has re-declared his strong opposition to marriage equality and, in an attempt to get out of a difficult political box in a state where most people favor marriage equality but his own base does not, stated that civil rights – both for LGBT people and looking back for African-Americans in the South in the 1950s and 1960s – should be determined by referendum.

Tom Moran argues that Christie picked candidates based on a political strategy to box in Democrats:

[W]hat was [Christie’s] goal?

That seems pretty clear in the case of Harris. Christie is trying to block gay marriage in New Jersey, and that could hurt him in a state where most people side with the Democrats. . . . the nomination keeps Democrats off balance. They can’t hit the governor on this without hitting the gay community in the same stroke.

The Kwon move is harder to read. The best guess is that Christie knows he is a hard-core conservative who has left no fingerprints.

Moran’s statement about Kwon leaving no fingerprints was quickly contradicted – by the news department of his own paper. In a single story less than a week after the nomination, the paper found that (a) Kwon only registered to vote in New Jersey in April and previously lived in New York; (b) that in fact he has long identified as a Republican despite a claim by Christie that he is an independent, and as such that would make the Court 5-2 Republican, a total deviation from historic standards of 4-3 partisan balance; and (c) that his family’s business, which Kwon’s wife works for, recently paid $160,000 to settle a federal charge of violating a statute designed to prevent money laundering for criminal enterprises.

In reality, we know very little about either Harris or Kwon, especially because neither has previously served as a judge. It’s hard to know absent further information whether they would be impartial, moderate jurists, or ideological adherents to the Governor’s distorted view of executive power. Christie claimed that both nominees “understand the true nature of a court’s role in a three branch system.” In Christie’s world, that means a Court that defers to whatever he wants – even if it is, for example, doing an end run around the Legislature by Executive Order to try to shut down unions’ involvement in politics, or failing to enforce constitutional protections on the equality of all couples. With a Governor who has been so focused on remaking the Court to serve his ends, as emphasized by a lengthy Wall Street Journal story just two weeks ago in which he made grand promises about how these two nominees would decide cases, we need to know whether there is something that Governor Christie knows about these nominees’ ideology that we, as of yet, do not. The fact that not even a week after the nomination it’s been shown that the Governor was not telling the whole story as to Kwon’s political affiliation gives significant room for pause on that point.

It is precisely because these positions are so powerful that a careful and thorough vetting process is necessary. Kwon has the potential for serving on the state’s highest court until 2037; Harris for about a decade. The Senate, under its advice and consent powers, has the constitutional duty to find out a lot more about them in order to ensure that our highest court remains impartial and balanced.

No matter what the outcome of that process, we hope that Governor Christie’s recognition of the state’s greatest strength – our diversity – will continue in future appointments and actions by his administration

Rep. John Lewis: Civil Rights Should Not Be Decided by Referendum

Rep. John Lewis, one of the most important figures in the Civil Rights Movement, stopped at the Trenton Train Station today with Congressman Rush Holt, Speaker Sheila Oliver, Senate Majority Leader and Blue Jerseyan Loretta Weinberg, DSC Chair and Assemblyman John Wisniewski, and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson to denounce Chris Christie’s call for civil rights to be decided by referendum.

Lewis, on his way with Holt to an event for 150 Trenton teenagers where he was speaking on civil rights history, made the point that should have been obvious to Christie: if civil rights had been decided by referendum in states such as Mississippi and Alabama – where Lewis said he “gave a little blood” on the march from Selma to Montgomery – it would have failed. And the fact that it would have failed would not have made the cause less just. Lewis said that the proper place for civil rights was through legislation, executive action, and the courts – the avenues that, rather than referendums, produced the changes that the mass movement made happen.

Lewis directly linked that fight to today’s marriage equality fight, focusing heavily on the legendary Loving v. Virginia case on interracial marriage and stating that he found it analogous and a basic question of human rights.

Holt and Oliver delivered strong remarks – and Holt deserves particular credit for bringing Congressman Lewis to New Jersey.

Christie’s attempts to backtrack this morning on the remarks brought their own new level of ridiculousness, labeling Reed Gusciora as “numbnuts.” Especially after today’s visit, it won’t be so easy for Christie to shrug off comments that debase the legacy of true leaders like Lewis.

Christie’s “independent” SuperPAC returns

The Christie SuperPAC – it’s back.

And as we reported here at Blue Jersey back in September – the Committee for Our Children’s Future about as independent from Chris Christie as Stephen Colbert’s SuperPAC is from Stephen Colbert. He met with the group’s treasurer – his college buddy – on the same day he denied being connected to the group.

Today, the group launched a $1.5 million TV ad buy pushing the Governor’s 10% income tax proposal and touting the Governor as a bipartisan leader.

What does that mean?

One, that it’s time for a fuller investigation of the connections between this group and Christie.

Two, it’s the opening salvo of the 2013 gubernatorial campaign.

Let’s face it: Chris Christie is more politically vulnerable than he would like you to think.

Like most bullies, he runs the risk of dramatically dropping in power and influence if enough people stand up to him. We started to see that back in spring of last year with rapidly dropping poll numbers, until his numbers bounced back after he could claim that he had reined in the Democratic Legislature (remember that Koch brothers speech?) through the pen/ben deal.

This ad campaign plays off of that, claiming Christie’s bipartisan successes – and trying to go for independent voters based on them. And trying to push the Democratic Legislature to hand Christie the income tax cut win and once again have him claim bipartisanship to his benefit.

There will be more to say over time, but one final point – $1.5 million is a lot of money, considering that $5 million just resuscitated a presidential campaign in South Carolina. Where’s that money coming from?

Christie tries to duck marriage equality with referendum proposal

Chris Christie, usually one to rush to put his stamp on any given issue, is scared of marriage equality.

So scared that he doesn’t want to be the one who decides it.

This is how he probably figures it:

1. He realizes he is on the wrong side of history here and how damaging outright opposition to marriage equality could be to his political fortunes in the long term.

2. But he has to placate the parts of the Republican base which are rabidly anti-marriage equality.

3. So he tries to claim that he takes a middle road by letting people vote on it.

4. And he tells Republicans who are caught in a similar bind – like Kip Bateman, scared of support for marriage equality in places in his district like Princeton and South Brunswick – to do the same.

But civil rights aren’t for the ballot box. Should the right to interracial marriage have been decided at the ballot box forty years ago? The right of Muslim-Americans to enjoy equal rights as Americans be decided that way today? What makes marriage equality different from those scenarios?

Governor, this is your chance to lead – not to cower behind leaving the decision to others. There’s still time.

Mosquera swearing in delayed until Jan 27 Supreme Court argument

In a late Friday order, the New Jersey Supreme Court set up further briefing and argument over the election of Gabriela Mosquera as Assemblywoman from the 4th District in November. The case now looks likely to be resolved after an oral argument before the Supreme Court on next Friday, January 27.

Ten days ago, the trial court, with a judge that was Chris Christie’s first appointee to the bench, ruled that Mosquera was ineligible to serve because, despite a federal court order stating that the residency requirement of one year living in district was invalid that both Mosquera and Secretary of State/Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno relied upon, that residency requirement applied to Mosquera. The Appellate Division last Monday reversed that order, finding reasonably that, because a court order was in place that set down what the law was, and everyone relied upon it, a court could not go back and change the rules after the game. Hours before Mosquera was to be sworn in, the Attorney General filed a brief reversing the Christie Administration’s earlier position that Mosquera was duly elected, and the Supreme Court held off Mosquera’s swearing in in response.

Now, the Supreme Court has stated that it will make a final determination on the matter, on January 27, after all sides have the chance to submit final briefs.

More below…

AG Engages in Politicized Reversal to Unelect Mosquera

As deciminyan reported earlier, the Supreme Court vacated the Appellate Division’s order from yesterday allowing Gabriela Mosquera to do the job that she was elected by a majority of 4th District voters to do.

This decision was shocking, because as I wrote yesterday, the Appellate Division’s decision to allow Mosquera to be sworn in was by far the more conservative and common sense ruling. Mosquera relied on a decade-old federal court order and the certification of the Secretary of State (i.e. the Lieutenant Governor) that she was an eligible candidate. She won the election. And after the fact, her opponent decided that because she lost it would be a good time to challenge – instead of bringing the challenge, say, when the Secretary of State certified her as a candidate.

But something weird happened this morning.

Court order reversed, Mosquera to be sworn in tomorrow!

Score one for reasonable judges: the Appellate Division of the Superior Court has stayed a lower court decision and allowed Gabriela Mosquera, elected by the voters of the 4th District as their representative, to be sworn in tomorrow.

For those of you who hadn’t been following, as Stephen Yellin had reported here on Friday, Camden County judge George Leone, Chris Christie’s first judicial appointee after taking office and a longtime Christie colleague, had ruled Mosquera ineligible to be sworn in, overturning the conventional wisdom that the lawsuit filed by her opponent Shelley Lovett, who had lost to Mosquera by several thousand votes, was a sure loser.

The lawsuit centered on Mosquera having moved to the district less than a year before the election – which the New Jersey Constitution prohibits. However, a decade ago an order by Federal District Court Judge Dickinson Debevoise had found this requirement inconsistent with the federal Constitution, thus allowing Mosquera and others such as Reid Gusciora to run in districts that they had not lived in a year ago. The situation with Mosquera was indistinguishable from the case a decade ago – right after redistricting, offices got shuffled around and a new candidate wanted to run in a new district. Indeed, it’s hard to see the point of having a residency requirement in a district that, just a year before, hadn’t existed. (Note that this is different from the Carl Lewis case which focused on a different constitutional requirement about state, not district, residency).

More on the challenge below the fold…

Rs offer Ds a very stupid deal

At the end of lame duck, all kinds of deals get cut every year. With the final bell approaching Monday night, this year is no exception – with important issues around education, economic development, and the environment on the table. The pressure of lame duck, in theory, can lead to good legislation finally getting moved – we got legalized medical marijuana a couple years ago, for example, and of course we should have gotten marriage equality. But it also can lead to deals that seem good under pressure but look worse once the pressure cooker is over.

Republicans apparently have put one such deal on the table today – a very stupid deal offer that Democrats should not accept. There is a fierce fight going on over a wine bill that would legalize shipping wine via the mail and allow the opening of tasting rooms throughout the state. This fight has divided the Democratic Party – with good arguments, and significant interests, on both sides. The supporters argue that it will help New Jersey’s growing wine industry and that people should have the right to order wine online; opponents say it will hurt liquor stores which are often small, immigrant-owned businesses.

Now, Republicans are saying that they will based their votes on the bill on whether other legislation that they want – such as, well, the Police Bashing Act of 2012 that I wrote about the other day. If Democrats vote for that legislation, then Republicans will allow the wine bill to go through.

Let’s break this offer down. The Republicans are offering to pass a bill that already splits the Democratic Party – in exchange for passing another bill that would (a) hurt police and firefighters, who are increasingly fed up with the Governor; and (b) allow Christie to claim another “bipartisan” effort with the Legislature – which makes his poll numbers go up – while he still gets to bash Democratic leadership behind their backs.

Wow, that sounds really good, doesn’t it?

Christie resumes police bashing

Chris Christie has consistently since his election sent a new and rather surprising message to the public: it’s OK to bash the police.

In his latest crusade, which has reached a crescendo today, he has singled out what he considers inappropriate pay in police departments throughout the state. A Christie tweet todaycriticizes the Elmwood Park police department, which just saw massive retirements by officers sick of Christie trying to cut their pay and benefits. Heading to the other end of the state, his cuts led to mass layoffs of police and firefighters in Camden, leading to a year of terrifying murders.

This is not politics as usual in New Jersey. We’re more used to candidates of both parties who respect the police as in this endorsement of Rep. Frelinghuysen, where he says “These brave men and women put on a uniform every day knowing the dangers their occupation holds. Someone must defend their interests, just as they defend our communities and neighborhood.” For all of the sentimental politics in those kinds of statements from politicians of both parties, they contain a very real kernel of truth.

Those are not the sentiments that we hear from Gov. Christie. Policemen and women are seen instead as easily dispensible leeches who are appropriate targets of rants and attacks. Can we really expect to recruit and retain people to take on a very tough job that is very necessary to all of New Jersey’s communities with this kind of message from the top?

Lest we forget, those police are good for something though: providing helicopter rides to the Governor.

SEIU Rally TODAY at 4 in Jersey City to Celebrate Win, Put Pressure on NY

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ has proven for 7,000 New Jersey building cleaners that, especially in tough economic times, there is power in a union.

With just four days to go until SEIU’s contracts expired with office building owners throughout the state, and a strike already having been authorized, SEIU negotiated a contract that will see wages increase by over 10 percent over four years throughout the state and benefits such as health care continue. In an economy in which the middle class is bearing more than their share of the downturn, it is inspiring to see a union winning these benefits for people currently making around $12 an hour.

But the work is not over. Today at 4 PM in Jersey City at 101 Hudson Street, joined by several elected officials including Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise and Assemblymen Charles Mainor and Jason O’Donnell, New Jersey workers will rally both to celebrate the new contract and to support their colleagues across the river in New York, who also face a January 1 deadline but have not reached a contract. The New York deadline is one of many upcoming deadlines throughout the country of contracts still not renegotiated as most SEIU contracts expire in 2012.

The formal member vote on the new contract will occur in early January – but this one already looks like a winner. We at Blue Jersey congratulate SEIU for keeping middle class New Jersey jobs and hope that New York office owners follow suit soon.

PS A related movie recommendation for the holiday weekend – Bread and Roses tells the (fictionalized) story of a SEIU organizing drive in LA. It’s a bit over the top but fun and worth watching.