Independent Courts

In this hyper-partisan era it is more important than ever that New Jersey have an independent and diverse court that will interpret the law, take the long view, and not bow to political pressures of any one administration.  The New Jersey Supreme Court should not exist simply to rubber stamp one particular set of political ideologies and policies.

Governor Christie has attempted to make the Court more partisan and more divided than it has been in modern New Jersey history by inappropriately influencing the work of the court.  In 2010 Governor Christie chose not to reappoint Justice John Wallace Jr., a Democrat.  In the history of New Jersey, no Governor has ever made the decision not to reappoint a sitting Justice of the Supreme Court. This policy has served to insulate Justices from fear of political repercussions from their decisions. Past Governors, Democratic and Republican alike, recognized that stability of the Court serves the public interest and keeps political interference at bay.  And in a Wall Street Journal article appearing early last year, Governor Christie asserted that he would only appoint judges to the NJ Supreme Court who shared his opposition to the Abbott school funding decision.  These sorts of political litmus tests are not compatible with a healthy democracy that requires that the Court be independent and separate, in order to be the check and balance on the other branches of state government that the state Constitution requires.

New Jersey Citizen Action Education Fund educated the media and the public on Governor Christie’s attempts to stack the court in 2012 (which were successfully blocked), and the independence of the Court has been preserved for the time being. It is reassuring that other rights New Jerseyans enjoy today cannot be overturned on the whim of one Governor based purely on his political ideology.

However, there is more work to be done. Under the Christie’s Governorship, every non-tenured Justice has to worry if his or her decisions could put him or her in disfavor with the Governor, and lead to his or her ousting.  As Chief Justice Rabner said in a statement criticizing Governor Christie’s decision not to reappoint Justice Wallace, “Citizens who turn to the courts for relief are entitled to have their cases resolved by impartial judges who focus only on the evenhanded pursuit of justice; litigants should never have to worry that a judge may be more concerned about how a decision could affect his or her reappointment.”

For more information contact Ann Vardeman at ann@njcitizenaction.org