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New Jersey Governor Christie Supreme Court Nominee May Not Get Approved

It has been widely reported that the Democratice controlled New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee may not approve Governor Christie’s second person to be appointed to the New Jersey Supreme Court. The first nomination was not approved as questions lingered over tax problems relating to the candidate’s parents’ liquor store in Yonkers, New York. Reportedly, numerous cash deposits were made of $9,000 to avoid reporting income and paying taxes.

The new nominee is the Chatham Mayor Bruce Harris. He has been a lawyer for about twenty years and worked almost exclusively as a corporate lawyer with little, if any, courtroom experience. Mr. Harris is African-American and openly gay. His racial background and sexual orientation should not be relevant to his qualfications for being a judge. However, since New Jersey does not have elected judges, the politics of appointing particular people to judgeships is possibly even more political than a political race where the voters decide.

It could be argued that Governor Christie was trying to score points politically by appointing someone with Mr. Harris’ identity characteristics so that he may appear to be both “color blind” and in favor of gay rights, even though he opposes gay marriage which is the most critical issue facing the gay community legally. The Democratic controlled Senate Judiciary Committee may also be scoring points politically by opposing this nomination as a way to get back at Governor Christie while maintaing that their focus on his qualifications proves that they do not engage in identity politics.

I am not qualified to say whether Mr. Harris would be a good Justice or whether he is even qualified. However, the argument that because he was not a litigation attorney limits his qualification is somewhat unfair. Since the Supreme Court decides issues on a broad range of legal issues and cases and is a twice removed Appellate Court, the need to have been in the courtroom may be less important than if Mr. Harris was being appointed as a trial court level judge. A more reasoned criticism would be that he has never been a Judge before.

Regardless of the outcome, the residents of New Jersey hope that whoever gets appointed and approved will apply the law fairly and effectively and not create new law itself which, unfortunately, courts sometimes do.

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