Court throws Christie a brush-back pitch

Gov. Christie at a recent town-hall meeting in Palisades Park. (TYSON TRISH / Record of Bergen County)

Update: Full story in Friday's paper, here.

Pushing back against Gov. Christie’s use of executive power, an appellate court overturned this morning his order to abolish the agency that governs affordable housing.

The move means that the complex and controversial issue of mandating towns to build affordable housing drags on.

And it could prove to have ramifications if the Republican governor seeks to bypass the Democratic legislature and use executive powers to accomplish other goals during his tenure.

Most immediately, the decision reverses Christie’s executive order last June to abolish the Council on Affordable Housing and fold its functions into the state Department of Community Affairs.

“He was asking the court to basically ignore the Constitution and the statutes and saying as executive, he just inherently has this power,” said Adam Gordon, an attorney with the Fair Share Housing Center who argued the case before the three-judge panel three weeks ago.

But the Christie administration vowed to appeal to the state Supreme Court, which has been ruling on this issue for the last 37 years, and "remains committed to Governor Christie's original pledge to abolish COAH."

"We are obviously disappointed with the court decision, which only perpetuates the nightmare New Jersey has endured for decades with the COAH bureaucracy," emailed Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak. 

The Council on Affordable Housing had long been criticized as too bureaucratic and unfair to suburban towns that want more control over zoning decisions. The council was created out of a 1975 Supreme Court decision from a case involving Mount Laurel, in which the court ruled that municipalities have a constitutional obligation to create affordable housiung.

The appellate court at one point citing an argument made by conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in ruling against Christie. It concluded:

“The issue in this case is not whether COAH should or should not be an active participant in developing and implementing policies for affordable housing in New Jersey. Recent events have demonstrated that both the Legislature and the Governor are committed to charting another course for the future of affordable housing in this State....

"However...We conclude that the power to abolish COAH rests exclusively with the Legislature...While the framers of our Constitution intended to create a strong executive in the office of Governor (perhaps the strongest in the United States), they also recognized the need to insulate functions and agencies from executive control.”