TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie questioned the motive of two state Supreme Court justices Thursday after the court agreed to fast-track a case about how much judges should contribute to their health insurance and pensions.
The state Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, which stems from a new law that requires all public employees to contribute a greater share toward those benefits, without it first going before an appeals court.
Christie, a Republican, has often criticized New Jersey’s judges for trying to make laws rather than merely interpret them.
Calling the Supreme Court the “exalted elite,” he took it a step further Thursday as he insinuated the justice who issued the order, Virginia Long, had a personal stake in the case because she will be required by law to retire in March and start collecting her pension.
Christie also questioned why Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner recused himself from the case, calling it “mystifying.”
“Let’s face it everybody, there’s some deadlines coming up here,” Christie said. “Justice Long retires March 1. So I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but the fact that Justice Long is now presiding over this, the chief justice has mysteriously absented himself from consideration on this — I think those are all things people should be questioning.”
Court spokeswoman Tamara Kendig said judges don’t normally issue public reasons for recusing themselves from cases. She declined to comment beyond that statement.
The case started shortly after Christie and Legislative leaders made a deal in the summer to overhaul public worker benefit contributions. In July, Superior Court Judge Paul DePascale of Hudson County sued the state, saying the law violates another state law that sets judges’ salaries and says they cannot be reduced.
Most judges are paid $165,000 per year. Under the pension changes, they’ll see their contributions rise gradually from 3 percent of their pay to 12 percent by 2017. On Oct. 1, a 4 percent contribution went into effect, costing most judges about $80, but was only taken out of one paycheck before a court stopped it. The governor said the state was ordered to return the money.
Last month, Mercer County Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg rejected Christie’s attempt to throw out the lawsuit and ruled that the state cannot increase judges’ contributions while the case proceeds. After that ruling, Christie also angrily accused Feinberg of ruling in her own self-interest.
The governor has called for a constitutional amendment that would make the case moot — though that appears unlikely to gain much traction in a Legislature controlled by Democrats. Nonetheless, on Thursday state Republican Sen. Diane Allen, R-Burlington, Camden, submitted a Senate resolution to an amendment on the ballot.