After two defeats, Christie plans July high court pick

Posted: July 07, 2012

TRENTON - Gov. Christie, still angry at Democrats for rejecting two of his nominees to the state Supreme Court, said Thursday that he would submit a new name for consideration this month.

Christie told radio host Harry Hurley on WENJ-AM in Atlantic City that he was close to a decision. He did not say whom he was considering.

The Legislature's majority Democrats rejected Christie's two previous court nominees, First Assistant Attorney General Phillip Kwon and bond lawyer Bruce Harris. Christie's only other Supreme Court nominee, corporate lawyer Anne Patterson, was made to wait a year before she was given a hearing and confirmed.

Christie made it clear in the radio interview that the rejections still sting.

"It's the single most discouraging thing that's happened to me since I've become governor," he said.

"Because of the politics of personal destruction that these Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee - radical, liberal Democrats - decided what they wanted to do - it wasn't just that they wanted to vote no. They wanted to destroy Phil Kwon and Bruce Harris."

Sen. Nick Scutari (D., Union), who chairs the committee, said Christie had not discussed any prospective nominee with the panel.

"No one can force him to make a selection until he's ready, and no one can force us to hold a hearing until we're ready," Scutari said Thursday.

Christie has long been at odds with the Democrats who control the committee over his court picks.

Kwon was rejected amid questions about the finances of a family-run liquor store; Harris, a recently elected small-town mayor, had no trial or courtroom experience.

The feud began early in Christie's term, when he decided not to renominate Justice John Wallace of Gloucester County, the high court's only black jurist, who had two years to go before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70. The move infuriated Democrats, who blocked Patterson in retaliation.

There are two openings on the seven-member Supreme Court.

The Democrats want Christie to nominate a Democrat to one of the seats. He has refused, saying voters elected him in 2009 knowing he intended to make the court more conservative.

Traditionally a political balance is maintained on the court, with no more than four justices from either party.

Currently, there are two Democrats and two Republicans on the court with the fifth justice, Jaynee LaVecchia, identified by Christie as an independent. Democrats say she is a Republican.

Christie has been critical of the state's top court since he began campaigning for office. He and most conservatives say the court has made law when it should be limited to interpreting law.

The squabble between Christie and the Democrats extends to lower courts as well. Some civil trials in Essex County were put off this year because of a shortage of judges caused by a political standoff between Christie and Sen. Ron Rice of Newark.

Rice, a Democrat who has said he has reservations about the Christie administration's approach to overhauling education, blocked the governor's acting education chief from being confirmed. Christie, in turn, refused to act on proposed judicial nominees for Essex.

Senators can block gubernatorial nominations in their home counties by using an unwritten rule called senatorial courtesy.

The governor recently switched his judicial nomination of former state Attorney General Paula Dow from Essex to politically friendly Burlington County, where all the state representatives are Republican. Dow was unanimously confirmed last week along with more than a dozen other judges.

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