As hearing nears for N.J. court nominees, groups press for better balance

New Jersey’s Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a confirmation hearing Thursday on Gov. Chris Christie’s latest nominees for the state’s Supreme Court.

Public interest groups are urging that the decades-long tradition of a political balance on the court be maintained.

Dena Mattola with New Jersey Citizen Action said the governor is attempting to create a Supreme Court that heavily favors Republicans.

“We want nominees who are independent, that look at the facts of the case, the legal precedent, and are able to evaluate what’s best for the state and not what is the governor’s political or policy agenda,” Mattola said.

Christie said if his nominees are confirmed, there would be three Republicans, two Democrats and two independents on the Supreme Court.

“The unwritten rule in state government has always been no more than four of any particular political party, and we’re not even at four Republicans because, remember, while Phil Kwon was registered as a Republican in New York he never once voted in a Republican primary,” Christie said Tuesday.

The governor said he’s confident Kwon and Bruce Harris will be confirmed if they’re judged on the merits.

Marcia Marley, president of the progressive group Blue Wave New Jersey, said confirmation of Kwon and Harris would leave only two Democrats on the state’s highest court.

“These two appointments could radically alter rulings on an unprecedented number of crucial issues from public education funding and low income housing to collective bargaining and issues of economic justice as well as environmental issues,” Marley said.

And Staci Berger with the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey is concerned that the governor has not nominated any Democrats to the state Supreme Court.

“We’re concerned that the court’s traditional balance and impartiality and independence is very much under threat with these appointments,” Berger said.

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