TRENTON — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — still steamed at Democrats for rejecting two prior nominees to the state Supreme Court — said Thursday he’ll submit a new name for consideration this month.
The Republican governor told radio host Harry Hurley he was close to a decision during an interview on WENJ-AM in Atlantic City. He didn’t say whom he was considering.
Democrats rejected Christie’s two previous court nominees, First Assistant Attorney General Phillip Kwon and bond lawyer Bruce Harris. Christie’s only other Supreme Court nominee, corporate lawyer Anne Patterson, was made to wait a year before she was given a hearing and confirmed.
Christie made it clear in the radio interview that the rejections still sting.
“It’s the single most discouraging thing that’s happened to me since I’ve become governor,” he said. “Because of the politics of personal destruction that these Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee — radical, liberal Democrats — decided what they wanted to do. It wasn’t just that they wanted to vote no, they wanted to destroy Phil Kwon and Bruce Harris.”
Sen. Nick Scutari, who chairs the committee, said Christie has not discussed any prospective nominee with Democrats.
“No one can force him to make a selection until he’s ready, and no one can force us to hold a hearing until we’re ready,” Scutari said Thursday.
Christie has long been at odds with Democrats who control the judiciary panel over his court picks.
Kwon was rejected amid questions about the finances of a family-run liquor store; Harris, a recently elected small-town mayor, had no trial or courtroom experience.
The feud began early in Christie’s term, when he decided not to renominate Justice John Wallace, the high court’s only black jurist, who had two years to go before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70. The move infuriated Democrats, who blocked Patterson in retaliation.
There are currently two openings on the seven-member Supreme Court.
The Democrat-controlled Legislature wants Christie to nominate a Democrat to one of the vacant seats. But he has refused, saying voters elected him in 2009 knowing he intended to make the court more conservative.
Christie has been critical of the state’s top court since he began campaigning for office. He and most conservatives say the court has made law when it should be limited to interpreting law.
The partisan judicial squabble between Christie and the Democrats extends to lower courts as well.
Some civil trials in Essex County were put off earlier this year because of a shortage of judges caused by a political standoff between Christie and Newark Sen. Ron Rice.
Rice, a Democrat who has reservations about the Christie administration’s approach to overhauling education, blocked the governor’s acting education chief from being confirmed permanently. Christie, in turn, refused to act on Essex County’s proposed judicial nominees. Senators can block gubernatorial nominations in their home county by using an unwritten rule called senatorial courtesy.
The governor recently switched his judicial nomination of a former state attorney general from Essex to politically friendlier Burlington County, where all the state representatives are Republican. The nominee, Paula Dow, was unanimously confirmed last week along with more than a dozen other judges.