Governor Christie was well within his rights to fire Supreme Court Justice John E. Wallace Jr. But by removing Wallace, the governor showed his true colors and squandered an opportunity to depolarize the state.
This is the first time under the current state constitution that a sitting justice was fired by the governor. By all accounts, Justice Wallace has been an exemplary juror. Reappointing Judge Wallace to two more years (the justice reaches the mandatory retirement age in 2012) would show that the governor recognizes that he is not only the governor of those who voted for him, but also the 51% of the electorate who did not vote for him. This could have been Christie’s “Nixon to China” reach-out to his political adversaries, but the governor decided that his bullying “take-no-prisoners” approach to the executive branch applies to the judiciary also. Sure, the right would have been be apoplectic if Wallace had been reappointed, but the governor has enough political capital with them to ride out that minor glitch.
Christie removed the state’s only African-American Supreme Court justice, and proposes to replace him with a person who is a big GOP donor, one who fights for the tobacco industry, lead paint manufacturers, and other causes that place profits over people.
This was a defining moment in the young Christie administration. He had the choice to be either a statesman or a politician. Unfortunately, he chose the latter.