LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Justice Anne Patterson reconfirmed for state high court

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

After seven years on the Supreme Court, Anne Patterson came before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday for reconfirmation.

In New Jersey, every judge of Superior Court level or higher gets reviewed after the first seven years.

With Chief Justice Stuart Rabner looking on, Justice Patterson talked about her time on the state’s highest court.

“It has been the greatest privilege of my professional life to be a member of this Court for the past seven years,” she said.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Nick Scutari asked her what makes a good Supreme Court justice.

“Fairness, integrity, rigid adherence to the rules of ethics, which are so important for the confidence that our citizens have in the quality and fairness of the bench. Collegiality and respect,” Patterson said. “I think humility is important quality to have. We are dealing with incredible important decisions that we have got make. It’s essential to not approach an issue as if you have the answers.”

Then Gov. Chris Christie put Patterson, a Republican, on the high court in 2011.

Gov. Phil Murphy renominated her in late May, four months ahead of her seven-year review date. That smooth reaffirmation contrasted with a period of great turmoil around the court during Christie’s two terms.

It began with Christie’s startling decision not to renominate Supreme Court Justice John Wallace. That so angered Senate President Steve Sweeney that Christie couldn’t get his next four nominees confirmed: Phillip Kwon, Bruce Harris, David Bauman, Robert Hanna.

The court was without a full complement of justices for several years. Now the atmosphere around the court is calm.

Asked about her biggest cases of these past seven years, she answered with one: the decision to legalize same-sex marriage. She was for it.

The senators brought up issues they care about. Patterson listened and received kind words.

“Majority opinions that you’ve written, you’ve shown to be a very practical justice,” Sen. Paul Sarlo said.

After two hours, they voted and she was approved unanimously.

“The governor sets the tone. He set a good bipartisan tone, as I commented at the end. The judiciary in New Jersey is not a politicized judiciary. The governor wants to get back to that, although we had seen some politicization over the last administration, particularly with the Supreme Court. This is a recognition of the fine job that Justice Patterson has done, but it’s also a recognition of what our Legislature believes the Supreme Court should be, which is a fair, impartial body without partisanship,” Sarlo said.

State Bar president John Keefe spoke about why Justice Patterson deserves reconfirmation.

“Well, I think she’s demonstrated a superior intellect and a moral compass that is important for our judiciary. And I think this overall process where the governor reappointed her restores 60 years of good practice to maintain an independent judiciary. So her appointment is both important for what she has done over the past seven years and the process that we’re now seeing play out,” Keefe said.

The full Senate approved the renomination Thursday afternoon with one lone no vote.

At age 59, Patterson can look forward to 11 more years on the high court before she reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70. Her reconfirmation was about as smooth as it gets.