Tag Archive: John Wallace

Will Christie Try to Oust Rabner?Anticipating Christie’s Next Move Against an Independent Judiciary

Christie’s been governor for 4 years now. It may be getting easier to anticipate disreputable actions he may take, particularly when they favor his own flagging political fortunes.  And that’s what was going on outside a courthouse in Trenton yesterday. And the stakes and timeline are ramping up.

Chris Christie’s poll numbers are tanking at home and in Iowa, his inner circle subpoenaed and struggling . And he’s making national news for all the wrong reasons, including the latest bit of offensive weirdness, Christie doling out remnants of 9/11 wreckage to mayors whose endorsement he wanted. WTF.

More of what’s eating at Christie, plus vid, on the jump.

Blue Jersey Focus – Mark Alexander

Even though the 2012 election season has yet to reach its peak, let’s not forget that in New Jersey, 2013 will be another significant election year with the governor and the entire legislature at the forefront of electoral politics.

While many of our state elected officials are not professing to be gearing up for 2013, at least in public, one person who has already declared his candidacy is Seton Hall University law professor Mark Alexander. Two weeks ago, on Blue Jersey, he made what he calls “an exciting announcement” to tell the world that he is running for the Senate seat currently held by Senator Nia Gill.

Earlier today, I spoke with Professor Alexander via Skype to get to know him, why he is running, and what his priorities would be if elected. Alexander is no stranger to politics, having served behind the scenes for many prominent Democrats, and is the son of former presidential counsel and Secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander.

Notes: This is my first (and maybe last) attempt at a Skype interview. The audio and video are horribly out of sync. If any of the technonerds out there have some suggestions on a better way to record using Skype, please e-mail me at deciminyan@gmail.com. The article has been corrected to reflect the comments from Carl Bergmanson.

Assembly Budget Committee meets in Camden

Arguably, the most important function of the state legislature is developing a budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The governor has already submitted his version with wildly optimistic revenue forecasts coupled with significant tax breaks for millionaires. Budget committees in both houses are in the process of developing plans that meet the needs of the citizens of New Jersey.

The third and final session of state-wide hearings of the Assembly Budget Committee, aimed at hearing from the public, was held today in Camden.  Committee chair, Assemblyman Vincent Prieto and committee members listened to the testimony from a diverse set of interests.

The meeting was kicked off by the obligatory set of local dignitaries starting with William Thompson, the Vice President of Camden Community College which hosted the meeting.  He was followed by Camden Mayor Dana Redd and local Assemblyman Angel Fuentes.

Mayor Dana Redd

Assemblyman Angel Fuentes

Top photo: Ranking Republican member Declan O’Scanlon (L), Chair Vincent Prieto (R)

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

Christie blinks, ends NJ High Court Stalemate

Looks like Anne Patterson will get a confirmation hearing after a lengthy holdup over Governor Christie’s shock-and-awe partisan blitz on the Supreme Court.

Like all compromise there’s good and bad to contemplate. One curious twist: Like Justice Wallace before him, Soto was a big fat NO on marriage equality. And soon enough both will be gone.

It’s hard to sympathize when bigotry is put out to pasture. (And Wall Street Journal Headlines accusing Christie of “backing down” are just an added bonus)

Setting a Bad Example


The old maxim goes, “Nothing is ever a total loss. It can always be used as a bad example.” And nothing fits that saying better than the recent absurd utterance of Governor Chris Christie.

When questioned by a radio host on a right-wing outlet as to whether the governor had considered disobeying a potential ruling by the state’s Supreme Court, Christie responded, “Have I thought of that? Of course I have.”

We know that Governor Christie does not respect the American concept of separation of powers, especially when it comes to the court. His unprecedented politically-motivated firing of Supreme Court Justice John Wallace last year demonstrated that fact. But now, the governor has gone too far – sending a message to all New Jerseyans, and especially our children, that following the law is optional.


Our Republican Supreme Court in 2012

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.  

(more below the fold)