In the schoolyard spat between Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic state Senate President Steve Sweeney over Christie's nominations to the New Jersey Supreme Court, neither of the two has distinguished himself.

Christie started it in 2010 when he refused to reappoint Justice John Wallace, the first time a sitting justice was not reappointed since the state's 1947 constitution set the current terms for Supreme Court justices.

Christie campaigned openly against the "activist" Supreme Court, and the end of Wallace's initial term was Christie's first chance to act. Never mind that Wallace was the court's only African-American. Never mind that even though he was a Democratic appointee, Wallace was, in fact, the kind of moderate Christie professed to want on the court.

Christie then nominated Anne Patterson. Senate Democrats, led by Sweeney, made her wait a year before the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing and confirmed her.

Two more vacancies opened up on the court, and Christie appointed Bruce Harris, an openly gay black lawyer and a Republican, and Phillip Kwon, a Korean-American assistant attorney general who is currently an independent but who had previously been a registered Republican. The Senate Judiciary Committee rejected both - also a first in the state's modern history.

And now some Democrats are suggesting that they will not hold hearings on Christie's latest two Supreme Court nominees - Superior Court Judge David Bauman, a Republican, and Board of Public Utilities President Robert Hanna, an independent - until at least November.

Democrats want Christie to appoint a Democrat, and indeed governors of both parties have always tried to keep the seven-member court roughly balanced. The court currently has two Democrats, two Republicans and one presumed independent, although Democrats consider Justice Jaynee LaVecchia a Republican.

As political commentator Carl Golden noted in a Commentary page piece Friday, the issue doesn't resonate with voters, and Democrats figure they will suffer few repercussions for holding up the nominations.

But lost in all this political posturing is that the state Supreme Court is a crucial component of our government, and all this political gamesmanship has undermined the court.

There has been at least one vacancy since 2010. Two Appellate Division judges are sitting on the court as fill-ins, so the work is getting done. But it is hardly an ideal situation. The Supreme Court has the last word on many critical matters. There is a nomination and confirmation process in place to ensure that justices are fully vetted and meet the highest standards - and Democrats are now circumventing that process.

It doesn't matter who started this fight. It doesn't matter that Christie is hardly blameless. The ball is in the Democrats' court, and they have an obligation to act. They should hold hearings on Bauman and Hanna, and give them - and the people of New Jersey - the courtesy of an up or down vote. It is one of the things they were elected to do.

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