Christie starts swinging big axe at NJ judiciary

How seriously does New Jersey Governor Chris Christie take the separation-of-powers issue with the judiciary?  Yesterday, he became the first Garden State governor to refuse to reappoint a state Supreme Court justice in the 63 years the process has been in place, preferring instead to appoint his own choice, a proponent of judicial restraint.  Justice John Wallace, Jr, will instead retire:

Once again showing that he means to shake up Trenton, Gov. Christopher J. Christie declined on Monday to reappoint a sitting justice to the New Jersey Supreme Court, instead appointing someone who he said would show the restraint that was missing from the court.

The justice, John E. Wallace Jr., became the first one to seek reappointment and be refused by a New Jersey governor since the current State Constitution was adopted 63 years ago. …

Speaking to reporters in Trenton, Mr. Christie had only kind words for Justice Wallace, but he described the historically liberal court as “out of control” over the last three decades, usurping the roles of the governor and the Legislature in setting social and tax policies.

This appears more symbolic than substantive — a message sent and delivered.  Wallace would only have been able to serve less than two more years even with a reappointment, as New Jersey has a mandatory retirement age for jurists of 70.   The New York Times lists several cases that have angered conservatives where the Supreme Court arguably acted beyond its authority, but Wallace wasn’t around for those decisions.

Instead, Christie appointed Anne Patterson, an attorney with no experience as a judge.  Because of that, Patterson is something of a cipher, at least to everyone but Christie.  She will have to win confirmation from the state Senate, and that already looks like it could be tough.  Democrats control that chamber, and the Senate President issued a statement blasting Christie and claiming “that rank politics and ideology trump practical experience.”  That doesn’t sound as if Patterson will have an easy ride to confirmation.

Patterson, 51, does have one obvious advantage: her age.  Justices get a seven-year term when appointed, and if reappointed, then get a lifetime job.  Assuming Patterson gets confirmed and reappointed — something Christie could do if he wins re-election — she’ll be on the bench for almost 20 years, allowing Christie’s legacy to continue far past his governorship.  That sends a message, which is that this governor really intends on changing the politics in Trenton.