Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Boys and their Big Sticks

One cannot help but wonder if the City of Trenton has any plans to build a boardwalk. In honor of the escalating hostilities between the various branches of our State government and the place of honor that Mr. Springsteen's music occupies in the heart and mind in several of the principals, it might indeed be appropriate. Boardwalk or no boardwalk, it appears as if Trenton is getting ready for one hell of a fight.

Our newly minted governor just this week declared that he is not going to grant lifetime tenure on our State Supreme Court to one of the Court's Associate Justices. I do not know the Justice in question - never having appeared before His Honor - but I have no reason to disagree with this assessment of him as a man who, "has earned respect and admiration for more than 30 years as a municipal court judge, trial and appellate judge, and justice of the Supreme Court. He is an intellectually honest, wise, and independent thinker, a fair-minded jurist, a gifted, thoughtful writer, and a model of integrity and character. His exemplary and honorable record speaks for itself, and his departure is a loss to the Judiciary." I take on faith that his boss knows him better than I and I accept the Chief's characterization of him.

Truth be told, the "lifetime tenure" appointment - in real numbers - equals two years as the mandatory retirement age for our Justices is 70 and the soon-to-be former Associate Justice is 68. Nevertheless, the Gov's decision has prompted a rather interesting and most decidedly pointed response from the Legislative branch. The President of the Senate has declared that the Senate will not hold confirmation hearings for the woman who the Gov nominated to replace Wallace for 22 months......which is coincidentally when the then-70 year old jurist would have been required to retire. I do not pretend to be a State Constitutional scholar (quick show of hands as to which two of the three previous words were unnecessary) so I know not whether the folks in the Senate have the right to do what they propose to do although given the number of Senators who are attorneys methinks that they believe themselves to be on solid ground legally in espousing this particular position.

I do not know the nominee. I certainly have no reason to doubt her qualifications to do the job for which she has been nominated or to reject as untrue the flattering things that have been said about her both personally and professionally. I wonder though whether in short order this whole imbroglio will cease to be about her and the man who she has been nominated to replace. I wonder in fact if the train has not already jumped the track on that point.

I say that simply for this reason - and I truly care not whether you think the Gov acted rightly or wrongly vis-a-vis this particular decision for you are as entitled to your belief as I am to mine. A number of those who have expressed particular outrage over this decision have pointed out - correctly - that no Governor has failed to give lifetime tenure to a sitting Supreme. Yet in reporting this truth they fail to tell - as Paul Harvey used to call it - the rest of the story.

The rest of the story is that in our not too distant past a young, hard-charging candidate made a central theme of his campaign his plan - upon election - to refuse lifetime appointment to a sitting Justice whose initial seven-year term was set to expire in the middle of his initial gubernatorial lap. Rather than be formally dis-invited to be a member of the Court, the Justice wearing the bull's eye t-shirt resigned. Thus, while it is technically true to say what has transpired this week is something that has never happened before, whether he is truly plowing a path thru virgin soil or merely stirring up dirt that had lain undisturbed for a little while is left for someone far more skilled in the horticultural sciences than am I to ultimately decide.

This is Jersey after all. Sometimes close is as good as it gets.


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