In Dicta

Sunday, August 28, 2005

"Packing" the NJ Supreme Court

"Senator Jon S. Corzine says he believes that the selection of the next few Supreme Court justices is a "big, big, big responsibility," given the increasingly conservative bent of the federal courts. Douglas R. Forrester declares that he cannot "think of anything that has any more long-term potential impact" than those appointments, because the court has, in his view, often overstepped its authority.

They are not talking about the Supreme Court in Washington.

For all the attention being paid to the nomination of Judge John G. Roberts Jr., New Jersey is facing some tough court choices of its own, at a time when future cases could tackle contested topics like eminent domain and same-sex marriage.

Shortly after taking office, the next governor must replace Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz, who will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 next October. The job may be the most powerful state judgeship in America, because the chief justice is also responsible for assigning all 453 Superior Court judges in New Jersey, and overseeing a statewide staff of 9,000.

Then, after the chief justice's position is filled, the governor is scheduled to replace one judge who is retiring and decide whether to reappoint three of the court's five remaining justices by the end of his first term in 2009.

In New Jersey, the state's Supreme Court has had a bigger effect on fiscal issues, such as schools, zoning laws and state finances, than any decision made on the federal circuit. And those decisions have often reverberated beyond the state's borders because of the New Jersey Supreme Court's national reputation.

If Mr. Forrester, a Republican, wins, he is expected to steer what has long been viewed as a liberal court to the right, favoring nominees who have demonstrated "judicial restraint," he said in an interview. He also has had a bitter personal experience with the court: During Mr. Forrester's unsuccessful bid for United States Senate in 2002, the court allowed his opponent, former Senator Robert G. Torricelli, to be replaced by Frank R. Lautenberg, just 36 days before the election, despite the 51-day deadline set by state law.

"The big questions of land use, election law, public finance and certainly education have all been decided by the Supreme Court in New Jersey," Mr. Forrester said during a Republican primary debate in June. "That's wrong. It should be decided by the Legislature."

If Mr. Corzine, a Democrat, wins, he is expected to favor jurists who share his views on labor, privacy and other issues. By contrast, he said in an interview, Mr. Forrester has professed admiration for Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas."

Democracy at work?

From The New York Times.


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