Quest for political balance figured in rejection of N.J. Supreme Court nominee

Political balance was a major reason the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday night rejected the nomination of Phillip Kwon to the state Supreme Court.

Kwon, who is not registered with a political party, was registered as a Republican when he lived in New York.

Gov. Chris Christie says Kwon’s nomination would not upset the Garden State’s tradition of a politically balanced court. Appointment of Kwon would have meant three Republicans, two Democrats and two independents, the governor said. Democrats contend Kwon is a Republican in independent’s clothing.

Rutgers-Camden Law School professor Robert Williams says the tradition of a politically balanced court helps with credibility in politically charged cases. In one of those cases, the court allowed then-retired Frank Lautenberg to get his name on the ballot when Bob Torricelli dropped out of the 2002 U.S. Senate race.

“When that went to the Supreme Court and it was upheld, 7-nothing, by a court that was balanced politically, most people didn’t notice that,” Williams said. “But that adds some legitimacy to a court that’s not all from one party.”

Even when the court has been balanced, Williams says some nominees have surprised the governors who nominated them.

He cited the case of former Chrisf Justice Deborah Poritiz.

“She was nominated by a Republican governor, Christine Whitman, and many people at that time expected a substantial shift in the New Jersey Supreme Court,” Williams said. “And, in fact, that didn’t happen.”

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