N.J. Supreme Court standoff further complicated

A stalemate between New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the state Senate over the state’s Supreme Court just got more complicated. And the court is caught in the middle.

First, Christie refused to reappoint a well-respected justice. Then the Senate refused to hold hearings on the governor’s choice for a replacement. Now, another Supreme Court Justice, Roberto Rivero-Soto of Haddonfield, has said he will not seek reappointment next fall. That could leave two vacancies on a court that values its political independence.

Unlike Pennsylvania’s elected Supreme Court, justices in New Jersey are appointed by the governor, then confirmed by the Senate for their seven-year terms. Governors then reappoint justices until they age-out at 70. But Christie’s move was unprecedented.

Robert Williams, a law professor at Rutgers University, said the court has had to decide highly politicized cases. So far, he said, it’s done so based on law, not on whether the justices will keep their jobs.

“But when the judge has to look over his or her shoulder at the possibility of being retaliated against by a governor who doesn’t like the nature of the decisions, that really erodes the independence of justice,” he said.

Williams said what will happen next is hard to predict.

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