By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
By tradition, the seven-member state supreme court has three justices of one party and four of another.
The current court has two Democrats, two Republicans, two vacancies, and one independent, Jaynee LaVecchia, whom the Democrats count as a Republican.
That frustrates the governor.
“Jaynee LaVecchia is an independent. She’s registered as an independent she has never once in her life voted in as party primary for either party. And that makes her an independent,” said Gov. Chris Christie.
Senate judiciary committee chairman Nick Scutari sees it differently.
“She’s a Republican. If you talk to other people that were in the Whitman Administration, when she was named, she was always thought to be a Republican,” said Scutari. “Justice LaVecchia has great respect from her peers, and amongst the judiciary, and amongst lawyers and people in the legislature but that does not negate the fact, she is a Republican.”
The disagreement about LaVecchia is at the heart of the standoff over Supreme Court appointments.
The Senate gave quick approval this fall to Republican Faustino Fernandez-Vina, who was nominated to replace a Republican, but the Democrats have been sitting on Christie’s two other nominees David Baumann and Robert Hanna, who would take over Democratic seats.
“It’s been a year now since I nominated Bob Hanna and Judge Baumann and you haven’t heard a peep out of them about a hearing, yet when I appoint Justice Fernandez-Vina, a Republican to a Republican seat, they hold a hearing like that. Well, if there’s any more evidence you all need that it’s partisan driven, that’s it. ‘Oh, well, he’s a Republican, Republican seat, so our advantage remains the same,” said Christie.
“Elections have consequences. The people of the state of New Jersey determined the senate should be controlled by Democrats. They reelected myself and all of my colleagues in the Senate. They obviously like what we’re doing, which is to hold the balance on the court they don’t want to see the Court tilted all the way to the right,” said Scutari.
Christie ally, Republican Senator Kevin O’Toole, introduced a resolution last week designed to break the logjam.
It would give the Senate 90 days to hold a hearing on a Supreme Court nominee and if no action is taken, the nomination goes through.
He says the current standoff is unprofessional, unfair to the nominees, and to the governor.
“If you look back, every democrat governor has had four justices of his or her own party, for some reason because this governor, a two term-governor is not allowed to have a third or fourth Republican on the bench, it’s inconsistent with the history it’s been since 1948,” said O’Toole.
Christie was asked if he thinks the tradition of partisan balance on the court is outdated.
“Do I think it’s outdated? I do. I don’t think it has made any sense at all over time,” said Christie.
He prefers the way it’s done in Washington.
“You should appoint the best people you can. Regardless of party and put them on there. Democrats typically appoint Democrats, Republicans typically appoint Republicans, we’ve seen that in the US Supreme Court for 200-plus years and the republic has not crumbled as a result of awful partisanship of the U.S Supreme Court. What they say would happen here. This is a result in search of a rationale. The result they want is continued liberal governance on the Supreme Court. They will put up with two vacancies to get it, with smearing good people who’ve been nominated to this court to get it,” said Christie.
Scutari agrees he and his colleagues are focused on partisan balance.
“There’s some sense in that and some truth to that. We’re gonna maintain the balance on the court,” said Scutari.
As for the governor’s two stalled nominees, Baumann and Hanna, Scutari says they are not likely to get a hearing anytime soon in 2014, so the impasse will go on.