Cross-posted at Blue Jersey
The deleterious effects of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s “slash and burn” policies and his coddling to millionaires are starting to be felt, and will be with us long after he leaves office. Libraries are closing, experienced teachers and other public servants are retiring in droves, infrastructure continues to crumble, and taxes on the middle class and the poor are going up. Yet, there’s one other impact of the Governor’s approach that won’t be felt – at least directly – for a while. That is the politicization of New Jersey’s judiciary.
Politicization of the judiciary is nothing new to Mr. Christie. As a U.S. Attorney and acolyte of Karl Rove, he saw firsthand how a master of his craft can subvert the judicial system to advance a political agenda.
Governor Christie refused to nominate Supreme Court justice John Wallace last May – not because of any incompetence or malfeasance on the judge’s part, but simply to replace Wallace with a corporate-friendly attorney who would help advance the governor’s agenda. But this was more than a warning shot over the bow for the remaining justices. It was a not-so-implicit threat to the three non-tenured justices that “if you don’t support my agenda, you’re outta here!”
It’s uncertain whether the three “liberal” non-tenured justices refused to re-open the case pertaining to New Jersey’s “separate but equal” civil unions because of Christie’s threats. One would like to think that their decision was based on the law, and not on their careers. But it’s hard to ignore the elephant in the room. While Chief Justice Stuart Rabner has the power to elevate a lower-tier justice to the Supreme Court until the State Senate decides to confirm Christie’s choice, he has chosen not to do so. Could this also be due to Rabner’s concern about the Wrath of Chris?
So what’s the solution? In some states, Supreme Court justices are elected rather than appointed. That’s a bad idea – it only politicizes the judiciary even further. When a justice is selected in New Jersey, he or she must be confirmed by the State Senate. So why not extend the checks and balances and require the State Senate to approve or disapprove the removal of a justice at the end of his or her term? Of course, impeachment for criminal activity is still on the table. And the mandatory retirement age of 70 would still remain.
No method of selecting judges is devoid of politics, but by adding this check and balance, we could avoid the type of political shenanigans that are practiced by Mr. Christie.