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Idea of the Day: Chris Christie Is Attempting to Pack His State Supreme Court

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In the wake of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s recent decision granting same-sex couples the freedom to marry, social conservatives called on Gov. Chris Christie (R) to make good on his pledges to rein in a state supreme court they perceive as “activist” and “liberal.” Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, criticized the court for “redefining our most important social institution with no regard to the wishes of voters or even elected officials.” Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director at the Judicial Crisis Network, dubbed the tribunal “Chris Christie’s court” and referred to it as “lawless” and “out of control.” She also alleged that Christie “has completely squandered the opportunity to appoint highly qualified judges who faithfully adhere to the text and original meaning of the law.” Severino called on Christie to fulfill his campaign pledge to appoint judges who do not “legislate from the bench.” This call for action is odd, considering that it comes in the midst of Christie’s years-long quest to do just that. Christie is engaged in an unprecedented effort to augment the governor’s influence over the fiercely independent New Jersey Supreme Court.

Christie is the only New Jersey governor since the ratification of the state constitution in 1947 who refused to nominate a sitting state supreme court justice for tenure. This led to a standoff with the Democratic state senate, which must confirm the governor’s nominees. The seat formerly occupied by Justice John Wallace has remained vacant since May 2010, and Chief Justice Stuart Rabner has appointed lower-court judges to temporarily fill the vacant seats. But Rabner himself is up for tenure in June 2014. Since Rabner authored the court’s recent marriage equality opinion, some pundits expect that Christie will again throw a respected justice off the bench because he does not like his rulings.

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