The Whitman Court is gone

Less than seven years after leaving office, the so-called Whitman Court has virtually disappeared. Of the six Supreme Court appointments made by Christine Todd Whitman during her seven years as Governor, only two — Virginia Long and Jaynee LaVecchia — are expected to remain in office when the next court session begins this fall. James Zazzali, whom she named as an Associate Justice in 2000, reaches the mandatory retirement age of seventy in October.

Whitman's first appointment, James Coleman, the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court, retired at age seventy in 2003. Deborah Poritz, who became the first woman Chief Justice when Whitman named her in 1996, turned seventy last year. Her sixth appointment, Peter Verniero, was just forty years old when he was named Associate Justice in 1999 — with the potential to serve nearly thirty years on the top court. But he quit after five years, amidst controversy over his role in approving racial profiling as Attorney General and with the knowledge that then-Governor James E. McGreevey would not reappoint him in 2006.

Not including reappointments, Stuart Rabner would become Governor Jon Corzine's third appointment since taking office eighteen months ago. Corzine elevated Zazzali to Chief Justice when Poritz retired, and named Helen Hoens, a Superior Court Judge, to replace Zazzali.

McGreevey made three new court appointments: Barry Albin, who was widely expected to become Chief Justice last year at a time when political insiders viewed McGreevey as a two-term Governor; John Wallace, whose appointment to replace Coleman set off an internal Democratic base vote battle between African Americans and Latinos who wanted Zulima Farber to get the post; and Roberto Rivera-Soto, the first Latino Justice who now faces disciplinary action after an incident at his son's high school.

Governor James Florio and Acting Governors Donald DiFrancesco and Richard Codey did not make any Supreme Court appointments, although Florio and DiFrancesco reappointed sitting Justices to tenured terms. Florio and Richard Hughes, who served as Governor from 1962 to 1970 (and as Chief Justice from 1973 to 1979) are the only elected Governors under the current Constitution not to make any Supreme Court appointments. Thomas Kean made two appointments — Marie Garibaldi, the first woman Justice, and Gary Stein — and Brendan Byrne made five: Robert Wilentz (as Chief Justice), Stuart Pollock, Alan Handler, Daniel O'Hern, and Sidney Schreiber.

Robert Meyner named eight Justices during his two terms as Governor, and Alfred Driscoll named ten — including the original seven appointed after the new state Constitution was ratified in 1947.

Long turns seventy in 2012, which could give Corzine — if he wins re-election to a second term — the chance to name a fourth Justice. That would be his next new appointment, unless another Justice unexpectedly retires, or if he opts not to reappoint Albin in 2009.

LeVecchia, who was 47 at the time of her appointment, could amass a 24-year tenure as a Justice if she stays until she reaches the mandatory retirement age.

The Whitman Court is gone