Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Christie Court Nominee Approved

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Christie Court Nominee Approved

Article excerpt

Governor Christie's latest Supreme Court nominee plans to start work today after being unanimously confirmed by a Democratically controlled Senate that refuses to advance his two other picks for the high court.

Monday's vote does not break the stalemate between Christie, a Republican who has been telling national audiences of his bipartisan successes, and Democrats in the Senate who are refusing to consider two earlier nominees.

At issue is the political makeup of the court, which has been relying on temporary call-ups from lower courts to fill out vacancies left by the nomination fight.

Some Democrats have said Christie has ignored tradition and pushed a historically tightly balanced court far to the right.

"We aren't going to allow the court to get hijacked and have all Republicans sitting on the court," said Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The new judge, Faustino Fernandez-Vina, a Republican assignment judge in Camden County, replaces Associate Justice Helen Hoens, another Republican. Christie declined to reappoint Hoens, saying Democrats would have put her through a harsh renomination hearing.

On his first day, Fernandez-Vina is scheduled to hear oral arguments on cases involving workers' compensation, self- representation under the Sexually Violent Predator Act and warrantless searches by police.

Fernandez-Vina's confirmation vote is the first by the Senate since Anne Patterson was confirmed in 2011. Democrats have held up Christie's last four Supreme Court nominees - rejecting two in committee votes and refusing to schedule hearings for two others. Republicans have lamented Democrats' behavior as obstructionist.

"They have managed to politicize the Supreme Court," said Sen. Kevin O'Toole, R-Wayne, about Democrats.

Traditionally, the seven-member court is split four-to-three in favor of the governor's party. With Fernandez-Vina's appointment, the court will consist of two Democrats, two Republicans and Associate Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, a political independent.

Some Democrats believe that, should Christie's three nominees join the bench, they would swing the court into a 5-2 Republican supermajority. Many Democrats - and Republicans strongly disagree with this claim - say that LaVecchia often sides with the court's conservative members, citing her appointment by a Republican and work under conservative administrations.

Scutari said he was personally holding up Christie's remaining nominees. Asked about when they might receive a hearing in his committee, he replied, "I wouldn't hold my breath."

A larger battle may come when Chief Justice Stuart Rabner's seven- year term ends. Rabner, a Democrat, was appointed by Gov. Jon S. Corzine in 2007.

"We have the chief justice up for appointment in six months, and I'm interested to see what happens there," Scutari said. …

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