By Art Gallagher
Governor Chris Christie and Senate President Steve Sweeney announced that they had reached a compromise over the nomination of Anne Patterson to the NJ Supreme Court.
Christie nominated Patterson to the court one year ago today to fill the seek of John Wallace. Wallace’s term was expiring but he had not reached the age of mandatory retirement. Christie acted within his constitutional authority but broke with tradition by not reappointing Wallace.
Christie’s Democratic critics, in the legislature and the media, charged that the governor was interfering with the independence of the judiciary. Christie countered that he was fulfilling his campaign promise to reshape the court which has a long history of overstepping its bounds and legislating from the bench, especially with the Abbott decision which mandates education spending and the Mt. Laurel decision which mandates the development of affordable housing. These two judicial decisions are responsible for New Jersey’s highest in the nation property taxes.
Sweeney pledged that Patterson would not get a hearing in the Senate and that her nomination would not be voted on until Wallace, who hails from Sweeney’s home county of Gloucester, reached the age of retirement; March of 2012. For a year the Wallace seat has filled by appellate Judge Edwin Stern who was appointed by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner as a temporary fill-in.
As a result of the “compromise” announced yesterday between Christie and Sweeney, the governor will withdraw Patterson’s nomination to Wallace seat and nominate her for the seat of retiring Justice Roberto Rivera-Sota. Sweeney pledged a fair hearing for Patterson, and that timely hearings will be held for the Wallace seat and the seat of
Justice Virginia Long who reaches the mandatory retirement age in 2012.
I fail to see the “deal” here. Where’s the compromise? What did Christie get? Christie could have withdrawn Patterson’s nomination for Wallace’s seat and nominated her for Rivera-Soto’s seat without consulting Sweeney. Sweeney keeps the Wallace seat filled by Stern until March. Was Sweeney threatening to hold up the nominations to replace Wallace and Long beyond their retirement dates? Would Sweeney allow three seats on the seven member court to be held by temporary Justices appointed by Rabner?
The other thing I don’t like about this deal capitulation, is that it is an indication that Christie assumes that Sweeney will be Senate President next year. While that may be a realistic expectation given the new gerrymandered legislative map, it is disappointing to think that Christie, as the leader of the Republican party, has already given up on trying to win control of the Senate in the legislative election this November.
If Christie has given up on winning control of the Senate, who am I to argue that it is possible?
So much for turning Trenton upside down.