N.J. paper: Christie, Dems need to work together on SC nominees

Jessica M. Karmasek Mar. 26, 2012, 2:20pm



TRENTON, N.J. (Legal Newsline) - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie needs to consult with state Democrats if the two vacancies on the state's Supreme Court are to be filled and quickly, one newspaper advises.

Christie, a Republican, has butted heads with Democrats in recent months over his nominations to the high court.

In January, the governor nominated Chatham Mayor Bruce Harris and Assistant Attorney General Phillip Kwon to the Court.

The two would fill spots vacated by Justice Virginia Long's coming mandatory retirement and Christie's decision not to renominate former Justice John Wallace.

Neither Harris nor Kwon has ever worked as a judge before.

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-6 against Kwon. Harris was expected to be interviewed the same day, but, according to The Star-Ledger, his hearing was postponed. He would be the third African-American and first openly gay member of the Court.

If confirmed, Kwon would have been the state's first Asian-American justice.

In a press conference following the nearly seven-hour hearing Thursday, Christie lashed out at Democrats on the committee.

"To see what Phil went through today... it was disappointing. Disappointing for him, for the process and for the judicial system," the governor said.

Christie accused Democrats of treating Kwon, who has worked in the U.S. Attorney's Office and is a graduate of Rutgers Law School, with "disdain" and like a "political punching bag."

"This was a means to an end for Democrats in search of a political win," he said.

Though upset, Christie said he wasn't shocked by the committee's decision. He said he was told before the hearing that the committee already decided it was not approving Kwon.

"This process has been nothing than a partisan sideshow from the very beginning," Christie said.

The Star-Ledger staff, in an editorial published Monday, suggested that Christie work with Democrats to avoid a stalemate.

"Here's our suggestion: Next time around, the governor should consult with Democrats. When Christie nominated Kwon and Bruce Harris, who is awaiting his confirmation hearing, he told Senate President Stephen Sweeney the names only a few minutes before the news conference introducing them.

"Bad move. Yes, Christie ultimately has the power to make the nominations. Elections have consequences, and he is the governor.

"But the Senate has the right to reject his choices and its members were elected, too. Remember that the state constitution says governors must seek the 'advice and consent' of the Senate. It seems Christie forgot about the advice part. And that's a key reason he didn't get consent."

Simply put, the newspaper says, "both sides need to sit around a table and start trading resumes."

"Good-faith collaboration is the only pathway out of this mess," the editorial states.

Earlier this month, Sweeney and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari, both Democrats, announced hearings would begin Thursday on Christie's high court nominees.

However, Sweeney and Scutari said the hearings would be delayed if Christie did not provide all of the documents they requested, including additional financial information on the nominees.

The Senate's request for additional information stemmed from reports that Kwon's family's wine and liquor store was accused last year of more than $2 million in illegal bank deposits.

Kwon, himself, was never named or charged in the case.

According to The Star-Ledger, much of the questions Kwon faced Thursday were about his family's business.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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