Christie's decision to drop N.J. justice draws response

Nick Rees May 26, 2010, 2:42pm


TRENTON, N.J. (Legal Newsline) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has been asked by eight retired state Supreme Court justices to reconsider his decision to not reappoint Supreme Court Justice John Wallace.

The statement was signed by retired state Supreme Court justices Robert Clifford, James Coleman Jr., Marie Garibaldi, Alan Handler, Stewart Pollock, Deborah Poritz, Gary Stein and James Zazzali.

"There is simply no question about the intent of the framers of our Constitution: reappointment would be denied only when a judge was deemed unfit, a standard that ensured the independence of the State's judiciary under the Constitution," the eight justices said in a statement to the governor, reports.

"That standard, embraced and followed for more than sixty years, is imbued with constitutional value."

Instead of reappointing Wallace, Christie has nominated Anne Patterson. Retired Justice Stewart Pollock, who signed the statement, works at the same law firm as Patterson.

At a May 3 press conference, Christie complimented Wallace's credentials but said that he would be replaced as the court was not interpreting the state constitution strictly enough.

"It is a fulfillment of my promise to turn the court away from its history of using legal precedent to set social and tax policies in our state - a role which belongs squarely with the legislative and executive branches of state government," Christie said.

The eight retired justices countered that the independence of the judiciary was of the utmost importance to the framers of New Jersey's modern constitution.

"The concern for judicial independence that shaped the discussion has been a hallmark of our judicial system since 1947," the justices said, according to the report. "By unwritten rule, Governors have maintained a four/three party affiliation split on the New Jersey Supreme Court, a balance seen as a powerful restraint on court "packing" or other means of exerting political pressure on an independent judiciary."

Appointments to the state Supreme Court last for seven years. If a justice is reappointed, it is for a lifetime tenure until the mandatory retirement age of 70. Wallace, 68, would have only served for an additional 22 months before reaching mandatory retirement age. His seven-year term concluded May 20.

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner has released a public statement that expressed his disappointment while showing support for Wallace.

Despite the opposition to his decision, Gov. Christie has called his decision final.

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