Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Democrats Appear Ready to Hold Up Another Court Pick

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Democrats Appear Ready to Hold Up Another Court Pick

Article excerpt

Governor Christie says he is eager to move beyond the continuing feud with legislative Democrats that has stalled his nominees to the state Supreme Court. But Democrats aren't ready to back Christie's latest nominee, who they say will be left to face the poisoned atmosphere the governor has created with his attacks on the court.

Lawmakers say they are still learning more about Assignment Judge Faustino J. Fernandez-Vina, whom Christie nominated on Monday to replace Justice Helen E. Hoens on the high court.

He answers Democrats' concerns about diversity and maintaining a partisan balance on the court. If confirmed, Fernandez-Vina, the top Superior Court judge in Camden County, would be the second Latino to serve on the court, and he would replace a fellow Republican on the bench.

But Democratic lawmakers said they still have significant concerns about the governor's efforts to take the court in a more conservative direction -- concerns that they say raise questions about any nominee Christie puts forward.

Fernandez-Vina, 51, is one of three pending nominees for the seven-member court. The other two -- Superior Court Judge David F. Bauman and a utility regulator, Robert Hanna -- have yet to face a confirmation hearing in the eight months since their names were put forward, as Senate Democrats have raised questions about their party affiliation and their independence from the governor.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, said it's unclear whether Fernandez-Vina would be quickly confirmed.

"We have three potential nominees for the Supreme Court to select from," he said, adding that the committee could hold confirmation hearings in any order.

Scutari said the circumstances surrounding Hoens' departure from the court shouldn't affect Fernandez-Vina's nomination process.

At the same time, he said that the governor's repeated criticism of the court as activist and liberal leaning has "changed the game" and raised questions about any nominees the governor puts forward. …

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