Tag Archive: NJ Supreme Court

Pen/Ben Court Hearing at 10:00 am AND Christie Introduces a Distraction

<<10:30 am The hearing webcast should be appearing here shortly in a Windows Media Player.>>

The N. J. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today on the Pen/Ben case starting at about 10:00 am at the Hughes Justice Complex, 25 Market St., Trenton. Do not expect to find seating unless you have already reserved it. To watch online you can access the live webcast at njcourts.com starting at 10 am. Other outlets will also likely broadcast the hearings.  

On the evening before the court’s hearing, which includes whether the State must make an additional payment of about $1.6 billion into the the pension fund by June 30, Gov. Christie’s office issued a statement. “Encouraging state revenues might provide another $200 million to pump into the public worker pension system this year.” The timing of this announcement seems quite convenient and not coincidental. It makes for a nice headline, but it will not distract the court from the merits of the case. The $200 million is only a small piece of what is due, and “might provide” does not mean “will provide.”

The statement is based on the Tax Collection Report of March 31, 2015 which indicates year to date collections at $18.4 billion are 5.3% above last year. That is good news. However, the report goes on to project revenue for the year at $32.6 billion (a 5.3% increase) which may or may not fully materialize. To achieve the projection revenue for the year, $14.2 billion would have to be collected in the last three months. Such is not impossible as amounts due on income tax are often not paid until April 15 or later. However, with such a large sum due in a few months, any projection is highly speculative.

In effect it is still too early to determine whether $200 million more will be available, and it’s irrelevant to main issue. The issue before the court is the constitutionality of the Pen/Ben law and what payment plan the State must follow. Good try, Governor Christie.

Comments that might counter the state’s pension fund position

The unions presented to the court their pension arguments on April 20 and on Friday the state presented its arguments in response. Also on Friday Senate President Steve Sweeney and General Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto re-stated to the court their position that the pension law “was considered constitutional at the time of its enactment, remains constitutional, and clearly creates a contractual obligation to systematic funding of the pension systems.”

Sen. Sweeney over the weekend said the Democratic-led state Legislature will fully fund New Jersey’s public worker pension system next year … with an addition of $3.1 billion for this year and next. Left unstated is that paying out the current year requirement of $1.6 billion in the next two months is impractical. He did not explain where the money will come from, but he is sending a message to the judiciary that the State can reasonably accommodate the obligation. Gov. Christie, using fear-mongering tactics, has argued that to make full payment would require raising the sales tax from seven percent to ten percent or increasing the income tax by 29 percent.

The unions won the first round in Superior Court. The showdown is scheduled before the NJ Supreme Court on Wednesday May 6. Below the fold are some further comments that might counter the State’s position.  

Unions present their case to the NJ Supreme Court

In a battle royale with huge stakes in late February the NJ Superior Court upheld the unions’ claim of pension contract impairment. It ruled that the governor had to make a full contribution to the pension fund by adding an additional $1.6 billion to the fund by June 30, 2015. Governor Christie first appealed the decision to the NJ Appellate Court and then asked the the NJ Supreme Court to intervene, to which it agreed. The case now before the Supreme Court focuses on whether the Superior Court’s award remains binding. Gov. Christie is hoping he will get a pass while the unions hope he will not. In the meantime Christie has sought delay and has not engaged with the legislature on a solution, so the unions continue to insist on the full payment per the 2011 law agreed to by both parties.

In the State’s brief to the Appellate Court on March 31 it argues that the Superior Court’s “contrivance of a constitutional right to billions of dollars in annual appropriations trespasses on the Legislature’s power to appropriate, the Governor’s constitutional veto power, and the constitutional right of citizens to ratify or reject all legislative decisions that purport to bind future legislatures and taxpayers with regard to appropriations. The constitution makes no provision for judicial participation in the annual budget process. The decision cripples the State’s ability to deal with pressing societal needs. Now by calling a statutory right “contractual” any given legislature may evade constitutional limits on its power and bind its successors in perpetuity. As time goes by more of the State’s budget will be frozen in this way.”

The unions’ response appears below the fold.

The Supreme Court assumes jurisdiction over the Pen/Ben case

Suspense over the court’s decision regarding Pen/Ben has just been ratcheted up a notch. Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson had ruled in February that Christie broke the law when he reduced payment for the system in the current budget by $1.6 billion. She also ordered the governor and legislature to find a solution. Christie first appealed the ruling to the Appellate Court and more recently asked the N. J. Supreme Court to intervene.

Today the Supreme Court  announced it would assume jurisdiction over the case. It set May 6 for oral arguments. The Plaintiffs (unions and others) must present their briefs by April 20 and the Defendant (the State) must submit its brief in response by April 24.

There has been no apparent solution from the governor and the legislature working together. The governor argues the court erred and Democratic leadership wants the governor to make a full payment. With a decision in May there would only be a few weeks to remove $1.6 billion from the current budget if the court were to make such an order. Whether the legislature and governor could reach some compromise acceptable to the court is unclear.

What do you think the Supreme Court will rule?


News Roundup & Open Thread for Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Am subbing today for Rosi who is unable to provide your usual dose of roundup.

UPDATE: two items recommended by Rosi:

  • US News: Oil Baron of the Pine Barrens: Chris Christie campaigned for governor as a moderate who backed clean energy. After a meeting with David Koch, that changed.
  • Braun: Parents just don’t get social media, chief NJ testing officer says.


  • Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in Arizona, will join a roundtable discussion with Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera (D-Bergen) and others about “the need for laws that protect women and families from gun violence.” –  Statehouse at 12 noon

  • Assembly Budget Committee hears public testimony on Gov. Chris Christie’s budget proposal, 9:30 a.m. at Passaic County Community College in Paterson.

  • The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management holds a meeting on the proposal for seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean in search of oil, 3 p.m. at the Sheraton Atlantic City. Environmental groups hold a related rally there at 4 p.m.  
  • Be Careful What You Wish For, Governor

    Four decades ago, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued what is known today as the Mount Laurel Decision – an interpretation of the state constitution that requires affordable housing be made available in the state’s municipalities. Ten years after that decision, the state legislature created the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), an agency that was charged with developing the regulations and approach to comply with the court’s order.

    Chris Christie has never been a fan of affordable housing. From Day One of his administration, he has tried to eviscerate and neuter COAH. His minions stonewalled, met infrequently, and never satisfactorily executed the agency’s mission. This week, Christie got his wish. COAH is dead. But not in the way he wanted.

    Because of the agency’s intransigence, the New Jersey Supreme Court stripped COAH of its powers and ordered local courts to start to ensure that the requirements for affordable housing are complied with.

    The attorney who argued this case is Kevin Walsh, Executive Director of the Fair Share Housing Center. I spoke with Walsh on the ongoing need for affordable housing in the state and the approach his organization will take to help meet that need.

    Jump below the fold to see the interview, or for an audio podcast, click here.

    NJ Supreme Court Acts Decisively on Affordable Housing

    After years of inaction and failure to respond to court requests from the Christie administration and his Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), the New Jersey Supreme Court decided yesterday to take matters into its own hands and provide a remedy.  

    When COAH had failed to promulgate Third Round Rules requested by the court by November 17, 2014, Fair Share Housing Center filed an instant motion. “The Court heard oral argument on January 6, 2015, and COAH’s representative admitted that COAH has not conducted or scheduled any meetings since its last meeting in October 2014, that it does not have any plans to meet further in an effort to adopt Third Round Rules, and that staff have not been directed to perform any work in furtherance of adoption of Third Round Rules.”

    Yesterday the court ruled as a remedy that “towns must subject themselves to judicial review for constitutional compliance, as was the case before the Fair Housing Act was enacted.”

    This ruling should help people of low and moderate income seeking much needed affordable housing throughout New Jersey.

    For individuals interested in learning more about yesterday’s unanimous decision, below the fold are a few key paragraphs from the court’s syllabus on this decision.  

    Christie Loses His Battle to Dominate the New Jersey Supreme Court

    The Senate’s resistance to Gov. Christie’s efforts to re-make the court has proven worthwhile. The Star-Ledger reports, through three anonymous sources, that a deal has been reached between Senate President Sweeney and Governor Christie which will lead to Democrat Stuart Rabner being re-nominated as Chief Justice and Republican Lee Solomon nominated as a Justice. Christie probably decided that not re-nominating Chief Rabner would release a firestorm of protest that he does not need now.

    There are currently five Justices – two Democrats, two Republicans and one Independent – and two temporarily appointed Judges filling vacancies. Under the above plan Solomon becomes the third Republican, and Judge Mary Catherine Cuff, currently a temporary judge, is the third Democrat. With the other temporary Judge stepping down, the court membership then would consist of 3 D’s, 3 R’s and 1 Ind.

    It has been a long and distasteful series of events beginning in 2010 when Christie took unprecedented steps in denying tenure to the respected Democrat Justice John Wallace, and later in 2013 to Republican Justice Helen Hoens, who did not always vote in Christie’s favor. At various times the governor continued efforts without success to add enough Republicans to dominate the Supreme Court. In recent months there were hints that Christie would deny tenure to Chief Rabner.

    What’s Happening Today Mon. 01/06/2014

    Give Him Credit for Persistence: Conservative, Tea Party Republican Steve Lonegan announced last week his eighth political campaign – a hefty number of efforts with a history of only three wins. Now with his last victory eleven years ago this Bergen County Don Quijote moves his quest southward to Burlington, Camden, and Ocean Counties. A quick Wikipedia trip down memory lane:

  • 1995 Elected Mayor of Bogota.

  • 1998 Ran unsuccessfully for Congress (9th CD against Steve Rothman).

  • 1999 Re-elected Mayor of Bogota.

  • 2003 Re-elected Mayor of Bogota.

  • 2005 Ran in a gubernatorial primary finishing 4th.

  • 2009 Ran in a primary against Christie and gained 42% of the vote.

  • 2013 Lost the U.S. Senate Special election by over 10 points to Cory Booker.

  • 2014 Plans to run in CD 3 primary for post vacated by Rep. Runyan.

    During this period he filed an unsuccessful public referendum in Bogota to make English the official language for the municipality. He spent six years as NJ State Director of the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. He also found time to oppose family paid leave, affordable housing mandates, and a gas tax increase.

    During his Senatorial run with little financial or party support he put up a scrappy campaign and garnered substantial press attention. His consistent, clear ideology was both his strength and his weakness. Conservatives and some libertarians loved it, but the other 54% did not buy it.

    With a record of never having won an election higher than the mayoralty, an inflexible personality, devoid of charisma, and an arch-conservative philosophy he now continues his dream against the windmill of CD 3. This is a district which leans Republican (Ocean County), but of its last four Representatives two were Democrats. If he follows his path of pro-extremism and anti-moderation and survives a primary he will once again learn that his is the impossible dream – one not held by the majority of voters. But the fight for the other dream – an “American Dream” held by Democrats – will not be easy. This man supports some repugnant positions, but he sure is persistent and can’t be easily dismissed.

    Christie is correct when he complained recently that State Supreme Court judges “are not accountable to anyone.” However, that is the way it is supposed to be. They are accountable to the N. J. and U.S. constitutions. If the writers of both documents had wanted them accountable to people, they would have placed them in elections. Instead the jurists are provided with long terms to free them from political pressure. They are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, but once in office they are not supposed to be accountable to a governor (which Christie would like) nor a party, nor voters. Relax Gov. Christie and stop your meddling with tenure, your efforts to “pack” the Court, and your anger when their votes don’t go your way. The system is working just fine.  

    Today: Governor Christie’s ceremonial signing of the Dream Act has been rescheduled for a day later this week. The Assembly will hold a voting session at 1:00pm with some sixty bills on the list. The Senate Budget and Appropriations committee meets at 10:00AM to review 27 bills including one (S2860) which requires municipal police vehicles primarily used for traffic stops be equipped with a mobile video recording system camera. For more information about today’s legislative activities go here.

  • What’s Happening Today, Tue. 10/08/2013

    A big moment: The Buono/Christie gubernatorial debate is tonight at 7:00pm. It will be broadcast live on CBS 2 (NYC) and CBS 3 (Philadelphia) from William Paterson University, Wayne. In the two most recent polls Farleigh Dickinson (10/05/13) has Christie ahead by 33 points and Monmouth University (9/29/13) has Christie up by 19 points – a stunning difference in two polls taken so close to each other. Real Clear Politics’ average of the five most recent polls has Christie ahead by 26.4 points. Election Day is exactly four weeks away. Let’s hope Barbara Buono knocks the ball out of the ballpark tonight. It’s been a tough campaign for her with little help from fellow Democrats (especially Christiecrats) and a glib, obfuscating, and cocky Chris Christie to run against.

    No news is bad news – day 8 of the shutdown: This morning Senate candidate Cory Booker will discuss the federal government shutdown and take on his opponent who has praised Republicans as having the “guts to hold the line” on their opposition to Obamacare. Lonegan on Tuesday at the Smithville Inn said, “I want them to keep government shut down till Oct. 16, because a win in New Jersey means Democrats will fold.” I don’t think so.

    Democrat Cory Booker maintains a 45-29% lead over Republican opponent Steve Lonegan among registered voters, according to this morning’s Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind Poll.

    Earlier this morning Sen. Barbara Buono was scheduled to appear on WBAI at 7:50am and WWRL at 8:05am to talk about Governor Christie’s failed economic record and outline her plan for lifting up the middle class. Christie’s economic record IS  a failure and that fact cannot be repeated too frequently – terrible unemployment, little new hiring, high foreclosures, insufficient assistance to Sandy victims, monies wasted to retain corporations in New Jersey, and increased property tax. No Jersey Comeback.

    Public Schedules:

    Buono/Silva gubernatorial campaign: 7:00pm, Buono and Christie face off at the debate.

    Christie/Guadagno gubernatorial campaign: 10:45am, Christie greets Edison Diner patrons, Route 1, Edison; 12:15pm, visits his Middlesex County Victory Office, East Brunswick; 7:00pm, Buono and Christie face off in the debate; afterward he rallies supporters who attended a debate watch party, Wayne.  

    U. S. Senate candidate Cory Booker: 8:30am, Breakfast reception, Upper Montclair Country Club, Clifton, RSVP: smaltzman@corybooker.com; afterward a news conference to discuss the federal government shutdown and Lonegan’s response to it, Bergen County Community Action Partnership Head Start, Cliffside Park.

    NJ Supreme Court: A “probable Cause” Oral argument: State v. David M. Gibson (070910). “Under the circumstances of this case, was there probable cause to arrest defendant for defiant trespass and was defendant properly subject to a subsequent search at the police station?”

    Open thread: Add an event taking place today of interest to our readers, or email items for this column the evening before to BillOrr563@gmail.com