N.J. Supreme Court a victim of politics

NJ Supreme Court Nominees Christie
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie listens to a question in Trenton, N.J., Thursday, May 31, 2012, after Democrats rejected his nomination of a gay black Republican mayor to the state Supreme Court. Morris County Mayor Bruce Harris was turned down by a vote of 7 to 6 after a four-hour hearing. It's the same margin by which another Christie nominee, First Assistant Attorney General Phillip Kwon, was voted down two months ago. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

If Gov. Christie wants to blame someone for his second failed nomination to the New Jersey Supreme Court, he need only look in the mirror.

 

As expected, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee refused to confirm Bruce Harris. In a nod to diversity, Christie in January nominated Harris, an openly gay African American mayor, to become only the third black person appointed to the court.

The Harris rejection was the second in two months for Christie, who earlier saw Korean-born Phillip Kwon's nomination denied by the same 7-6, party-line margin that felled Harris last week.

The Republican governor mistakenly bet on Democrats' approving Harris simply for the sake of diversity on the all-white, seven-member court, which now includes five women, one of them an alternate.

Christie blasted Democrats, saying Harris was rejected strictly for "reprehensible" political reasons. He never conceded his poor judgment in nominating someone with Harris' lackluster judicial qualifications.

Democrats also are still smarting over the way Christie treated former Justice John E. Wallace, an esteemed jurist and the court's only African American member. Instead of following tradition and reappointing Wallace in 2010, Christie vowed to reshape the court with more conservatives and end its "judicial activism."

But he could not make a strong enough case for Harris. The mayor of Chatham had no experience as a judge and was a virtual stranger to the courtroom as a lawyer.

Harris, who has lived with the same partner for more than 30 years, also sealed his fate during confirmation hearings when he said he would recuse himself from gay-marriage cases because public confidence might be undermined if he participated.

He failed to recognize the importance of a judge's personal insight in making some decisions. His perspective as a gay man might have been valuable in cases concerning gays, just as Thurgood Marshall's experiences as a black man helped inform the U.S. Supreme Court as it weighed civil-rights issues decades ago.

Christie wants to appoint Republicans to the court's two vacancies, but Democrats say tradition requires him to add only one Republican and an independent. It's a governor's prerogative to nominate whomever he pleases, but it's time for both sides to reach a workable compromise so a fully appointed court can do its job.