Governor Christie chose to honor the confirmation of Elena Kagan to the U.S Supreme Court by reminding New Jerseyans that our State Supreme Court remains shy one Justice. Said Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak:
“From nomination by President Obama to Senate confirmation yesterday, it took just 88 days for Elena Kagan to become the 112th Justice of the Supreme Court. Back at home, after 96 days without a hearing, there is no good and valid reason for the failure to give [New Jersey Supreme Court nominee] Anne Patterson the same consideration and deference.”
What Drewniak fails to mention is that there is no good and valid reason why there is a vacancy on the State Supreme Court to begin with.
Governor Christie chose not to re-nominate Justice John Wallace to the Court because the Governor wants to pack the Court with Justices who will overturn Abbott v. Burke and the line of cases that followed it. These cases require the State to re-allocate suburban property taxes to urban school districts. Had he been re-nominated, Wallace would have been able to serve for a little over 2 years before reaching the mandatory retirement age.
In response to charges that Governor Christie was politicizing the court by failing to consider Justice Wallace’s candidacy solely on his qualifications and not on his politics, the Governor claimed to have the right under the State constitution to boot Wallace. The Governor is a firm believer in using every arm of government as a political tool, just as Karl Rove used the Justice Department under Alberto Gonzalez as a political tool.
So how is it that Wallace has not been replaced yet? It seems that the same State constitution that allowed the Governor to sack Justice Wallace lacks a requirement for the Senate to confirm any replacement nominated by the Governor. Senate President Steve Sweeney says he will not consider swearing in a replacement until Wallace’s term has expired. i.e., for about 2 years.
Moreover, it seems that the Constitution was drafted with this type of stand-off in mind. Chief Justice Stuart Rabner has the right to leave Wallace’s seat open or temporarily elevate the most senior Superior Court judge or a retired state Supreme Court judge. In other words, the Constitution includes a check on the Governor’s power over the judiciary.
So, if the Governor wants to exercise the full range of his Constitutional powers, he has no right to cry fowl when the legislature and the judiciary follow suit.
And what of Anne Patterson? At first glance, she seems to be an innocent victim. However, it is clear that she has promised the Governor that she will vote to overturn Abbott v. Burke and its progeny. In other words, she is prepared to decide cases on political factors and not solely on the facts of the case itself. Which means she has proven herself unworthy to sit on any bench anywhere.