Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

State's Top Court Weighs Health, Crime, Layoff Issues

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

State's Top Court Weighs Health, Crime, Layoff Issues

Article excerpt

THE CURRENT session of the New Jersey State Supreme Court, which reconvened earlier this month, marks Chief Justice Stuart Rabner's first as a tenured head of the court.

Rabner's reappointment by Governor Christie marks the beginning of detente in a messy, years-long political feud between the governor and state Senate President Steve Sweeney, which saw Christie break with historic precedent and decline to renominate two sitting justices, Democrat John Wallace Jr., the court's only African-American jurist, and Republican Helen Hoens. In tit-for-tat maneuvers, Sweeney blocked four of Christie's nominees for vacant seats. But now the thawing has also meant the appointment of former Superior Court Assignment Judge Lee A. Solomon, a Republican who once served as the Camden County prosecutor.

And this newly constituted court will deliberate on dozens of cases, some with sweeping implications for New Jerseyans.

Several interesting cases are the result of budget woes: Do governments get to cut programs and employees because there isn't enough money?

Health care

One of these cases with the broadest implications is one in which the court will decide whether the state is legally allowed to exclude legal immigrants who have been in the United States for less than five years from Medicaid coverage. The lawsuit stems from a class-action lawsuit filed by a group of legal immigrants who argue that by allowing the state Department of Human Services to change eligibility requirements for the NJ FamilyCare program, the state Legislature violated federal and state constitutions.

The state argued that a huge budget deficit spawned the 2011 cuts to the NJ FamilyCare program. The changes in eligibility requirements meant that about 8,000 legal immigrants were denied Medicaid coverage. A two-judge majority on a three-judge Appellate Court panel ruled in 2013 that it was in the Legislature's purview to decide how the program, which provides Medicaid coverage for low- income New Jerseyans, should save money.

"We conclude that when Congress, in the exercise of its constitutional power over immigration, cuts off Medicaid funding for a group of aliens, the states cannot be required to restore that coverage using solely state funds," the majority opinion noted, referring to the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.

The immigrants group is appealing the decision, arguing that singling out this group of legal immigrants violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

Police force abolished

Another case also deals with the role of government - this time on a municipal level. With the support of Christie and Sweeney, Camden County established a police department charged with enforcing the law in the city of Camden, and abolished the city police force. …

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