Christie nominates Harris and Kwon to NJ Supreme Court

TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie today nominated Chatham Borough Mayor Bruce A. Harris and Executive Assistant Attorney General Philip Kwon for two seats on the New Jersey Supreme Court.

If confirmed, Harris would be the third African American on the Supreme Court and the first openly gay Supreme Court justice.

Kwon would be the first Asian American to sit on the Supreme Court. Harris is a Republican; Bergen County resident Kwon is undeclared.

Neither has served as a judge.

“We should not be afraid of setting an example for the rest of the country,” said the governor.

“While these two men have stellar resumes,” Christie said, they are “historic (nominations) for another reason.” He wants them seated by March 1.

“It is impossible for me to say how humbled I am,” said Harris, an attorney, who thanked his partner, Mark, for nearly 32 years of “love and support.”

“Throughout my career, I’ve tried to be the best person I can be and I will try to do the same as an associate justice.”

“I’m very cognizant we have a diverse state,” said the governor, who noted that Kwon is a Korean immigrant.

“My primary concern was to get two outstanding justices,” Christie added. He said he did not discuss specific cases with the judges, but made sure that they “understand the true nature of a court’s role in a three branch system.”

The two candidates didn’t take questions. Christie said the Senate Judiciary Committee would have a chance to grill the nominees.

Christie said his original plan was to unveil the nominations on Jan. 18th. He reschedueld it because of the death of former Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce.

“I’m not here today to talk about the marriage equality bill,” said the governor, when asked if the presence of Harris and his partner next to the podium signified his own softening on the issue of marriage equality.

But “I’m not someone who changes position with the grace of a ballarina,” added the governor who’s on record in opposition to same-sex marriage.

Harris and Kwon would fill two vacancies on the NJ Supreme Court. Former Justice Wallce’s seat is currently vacant after the governor dismissed the African American judge appointed by Democrats. Justice Long’s seat becomes open on March 1.

Steven Goldstein, Chair and CEO of Garden State Equality, was delighted by the news conerning the state’s first openly gay Supreme Court nominee.

“A few minutes ago, just before announcing his two new Supreme Court nominees, Governor Christie called me on my cell phone to tell me he is nominating Bruce Harris to the New Jersey Supreme Court,” Goldstein said. “…As I told the Governor right then and there, you could have picked me up off the floor.  

“When I met with Governor Christie in 2010 at his request, he told me that though we would differ on some issues like marriage equality, he viewed the LGBT community as an important part of New Jersey, and that he wanted his Administration to have a good working relationship with Garden State Equality.  That has been the case every step of the way.   Since Governor Christie took office, his Administration has treated us with warmth and responsiveness.   Yes is yes, no is no, and we’ll get back to you means they get back to you faster than you thought, usually with invaluable help.  To be clear, the Governor and his staff were invaluable in helping us pass the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, the nation’s strongest anti-bullying law that the governor signed in January 2011.

“No one’s asked me to say any of this – I am simply giving credit where credit is due, too rare in political life.”  

Goldstein said he and the governor did not discuss the marriage equality bill, and said it would be unwise to read any change here in the Governor’s position.

“He has said in past months and years that he would veto the bill, and we take him at his word,” Goldstein said. “We will fight hard every minute of every day to win marriage equality in New Jersey.  Nothing will deter us.  But again, right now, that doesn’t mean we should not give credit where credit is due.  Today, the Governor has made civil rights history, and on behalf of all of us at Garden State Equality, I extend to him our most profound appreciation.”

An attorney for 20 years, Harris most recently worked at the law firm of Greenberg Traurig and previously at Riker, Danzi, Scherer, Hyland and Perretti. The governor’s office said his work focused primarily on issues of public finance and commercial lending.

Harris graduated magna cum lade from Amherst College and graduated with honors from Boston University Graduate School of Management and Yale Law School.

He was elected mayor of Chatham Borough this past November. 

Kwon currently serves as First Assistant Attorney General where he has been the principal legal and strategic adviser to the Attorney General, according to the governor’s office. He served as part of the United States Attorney’s Office as the Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division, the Chief of the Violent Crimes Unit and the Assistant US Attorney of both the Special Prosecutions Division and the Criminal Division. He was the lead prosecutor on a diverse range of federal crimes and public corruption matters, in addition to taking on cases against some of New Jersey’s most notorious and violent groups, such as the Bloods, Crips, and Latin Kings.

Kwon graduated from Georgetown University and from Rutgers Law School where he was an editor of the Law Review.