Gov. Christie and members of the Legislature who supported the divisive pension and health benefits overhaul law derided the court's ruling. The Legislature approved a resolution placing the question before voters in November within days of the Supreme Court ruling, a rare showing of near unanimity between the two parties, by the two chambers, and between the two branches.
Christie also vowed to campaign for the question's passage. He's likely to face little opposition, since judges are barred from politicking.
Opponents worry that the amendment will threaten judicial independence and leave judges vulnerable to financial retaliation for unpopular rulings. Others say the wording of the ballot question leaves open the possibility that judges could be singled out for salary and benefits cuts in the future.
Some of the state's 462 judges already are paying the higher benefits contributions, either because they were hired after the law took effect or they were not covered under the constitutional provision.
The law raises judges' pension contribution from 3 percent of their salary to 12 percent by 2017. Most judges earn $165,000.
That would bring a judge's pension contribution from about $3,300 to $18,000.
Christie and lawmakers argued at the time that higher benefits contributions were needed from workers to help keep the retirement and health-care systems for teachers, police and firefighters, judges, and other public workers from going bankrupt. The systems continue to be underfunded by tens of billions of dollars, but Christie said Tuesday in West Milford that pension contributions paid by local governments had shrunk by $116 million as a result of the changes enacted two years ago.
The sweeping changes required everyone in the state pension plan to pay an additional 1 percent of salary immediately. Some workers then saw an additional increase phased in.
The increase was most dramatic for judges, who went from paying the smallest percentage of salary toward their pensions to the highest percentage. Their pension fund had enough money at the time to meet just over half of its eventual obligations.