By Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor
Gov. Chris Christie fired the first shot. “I was not going to let her loose to the animals,” he said.
The governor says he denied tenure to Justice Helen Hoens in order to protect her from a nasty Senate reconfirmation hearing. Democratic Sen. Ray Lesniak admits he had doubts about supporting her, but he says that’s no reason for the governor to back down from a fight.
“The governor called Democrats in the Senate animals. That was certainly an immature, childish remark and beneath the dignity of his office. And also, his treatment of the Supreme Court from the beginning has been improper. By not reappointing Justice Wallace, a very respected justice, he interjected his personal beliefs and politics into the deliberations of the judiciary,” Lesniak said.
Christie’s rejection of Justice Wallace for tenure caused a firestorm of criticism. Doing it a second time has sparked outrage from State Bar Association President Ralph Lamparello, who said in a statement, “Hoens didn’t deserve to be treated as a political pawn in the battle between the governor and the legislature over our courts.”
So why nominate Cuban-born Faustino Fernandez-Vina instead?
“I am replacing a Republican with a Republican,” Christie said.
“We need to nominate an individual who can get through the nomination process, and it’s very clear that the governor should have not just this nominee go through, but the other two well qualified nominees,” said Sen. Tom Kean Jr.
Not only have Democrats put off confirmation hearings for Christie’s recent nominees, they also rejected the governor’s previous picks for the state’s high court — Philip Kwon and Bruce Harris. Kean says they were both qualified and show the governor’s commitment to bring diversity to the bench.
“Senate Democratic leadership have played games with every one of the governor’s nominations. All five nominees have run into roadblocks in the state Senate in an unprecedented fashion,” Kean said.
What’s unprecedented, says Lesniak, is the way the governor is trying to stack the bench with Republican justices.
“The governor has to also understand that the court has to be balanced. And he has refused to appoint a Democrat. He wants it to be loaded with Republican appointees. That’s not good for our judicial system either,” Lesniak said.
Both sides know what’s at stake with each nomination because the court will consider controversial issues such as gay marriage and education funding.