Supreme Court rebuffs Christie on public benefits reform

In Sun Valley, Idaho, Gov. Christie and wife Mary Pat were attending the Allen & Co. Sun Valley Conference earlier this month. (PAUL SAKUMA / Associated Press)

Gov. Christie just got another reason to despise the state's Supreme Court.

The court issued a ruling this morning that rejects part of a landmark law, signed by Christie last year, that reduces health and pension benefits for public workers in New Jersey. The justices ruled 3-2, with one abstention, that the law doesn't apply to them -- or any other sitting judge in the state. The law can be applied to judges appointed after the effective date of the law, however.

In the majority opinion, the justices wrote: "No court of last resort -- including the United States Supreme Court -- has upheld the constitutionality of legislation of this kind."

 No court of last resort -- including the United States 
Supreme Court -- has upheld the constitutionality of legislation 
of this kindLast year, in perhaps the most significant legislative accomplishment of his term, Christie signed a bill narrowly passed by Democrats that reduces health and pension benefits for the public workforce. A superior court judge sued, saying the judiciary should be exempt from the new law because the state constitution protects judicial impartiality by forbidding judges' salaries from being reduced.

The part of Christie's law that increases pension and health care contributions, the argument went, constitutes a salary cut.

Today, the Supreme Court agreed, upholding a lower court ruling. It noted that over seven years, justices and judges would be subject to a salary cut of at least $17,000 each. 

A dissenting opinion by Justice Anne Patterson, a Christie appointee, said that nothing in the 1947 state constitution specified that "salary" includes pension and health benefits.

The decisions is sure to add fuel to what is already a fiery battle over the state's Supreme Court. Prior to Gov. Christie, every modern New Jersey governor has been able to get his or her nominees to the Supreme Court confirmed by the state Legislature. Christie has had two nominees rejected by Democratic legislators over the last few months as part of an ongoing stalemate that will continue to affect laws dealing with schools, affordable housing and taxes.

We are awaiting Christie reaction. It will be forthcoming, and fierce.