The time a Chief Justice died after 49 days on the job, and how Brendan Byrne was short-listed for the Supreme Court

Robert Meyner appointed eight men to the New Jersey Supreme Court during his two terms as Governor, many of them relatively young. As a result, Richard Hughes, who followed Meyner, made no Supreme Court appointments during his eight years in office. By the time William Cahill was elected Governor in 1969, the court began to turnover as several Justices reached the mandatory retirement age of seventy. During his four years as Governor, Cahill made six appointments to five seats on the top court.

In early 1971, Cahill replaced retiring Justice Vincent Haneman with Worrall Mountain, a 62-year-old Appellate Court Judge from Morris County. Both were Republicans.

Two other Justices, John Francis and Thomas Schettino, both Democrats, retired in September 1972. At the time, the front runners for the two Supreme Court seats were Attorney General George Kugler and Robert Clifford, the Commissioner of Institutions and Agencies (now Human Services). But Kugler became involved in one of several scandals that rocked the Cahill administraton: he was accused of helping to cover up charges that Secretary of State Paul Sherwin delivered a highway contract in exchange for a $10,000 contribution to the Republican State Committee. While Sherwin went to prison, Kugler was cleared of any wrong doing by the State Commission of Investigation – although his hopes of going to the Supreme Court ended rather quickly.

There was considerable speculation at in 1972 that one of the Democratic candidates for Associate Justice was a young, politically-connected Superior Court Judge named Brendan Byrne. Byrne received some attention when an organized crime wiretap called him the “judge that couldn’t be bought,” but Byrne was well known in the statehouse as Meyner’s former Executive Secretary (now Chief of Staff), and as a former President of the Board of Public Utilities and Essex County Prosecutor.

It wasn’t until six months later that Cahill, facing a hotly contested Republican primary against U.S. Rep. Charles Sandman, announced his picks for the two open Supreme Court seats: Republican Pierre Garven, his 47-year-old Chief Counsel, and Democrat Mark Sullivan, 62, an Appellate Court Judge. Both came from prominent Hudson County political families: Garven’s father was Mayor of Bayonne from 1906 to 1910 and again from 1915 to 1919; Sullivan’s father was a Judge who once ran for Mayor of Jersey City, and his father-in-law was a five-term Democratic Congressman from Jersey City.

Two weeks after Cahill named Garven and Sullivan, Chief Justice Joseph Weintraub announced that he would retire at the end of the year – a move that would later be moved up to September 1. The 65-year-old Weintraub decided sixteen years was enough and that he wanted to travel.

After mulling his options for four weeks, Cahill nominated Garven for Chief Justice, and Clifford, a Democrat, to replace Garven. Garven actually went on the Supreme Court as an Associate Justice in May, less than two weeks before Cahill lost the Republican primary. He became Chief Justice on September 1.

In June, Justice Haydn Proctor turned seventy and Cahill replaced him with another Republican, Superior Court Judge Morris Pashman, 61, a former Mayor of Passaic.

On October 16, Garven suffered a massive stroke and died three days later – after just 49 days as Chief Justice.

Cahill reportedly considered appointing Pashman, but instead went with a surprise choice: Hughes, the 64-year-old former Governor and a Democrat. He waited until the day after the November general election, when Byrne beat Sandman by 721,000 votes, to announce his choice. While Byrne publicly endorsed the pick, privately he was frustrated by it. With a huge mandate and Democrats about to take control of the Senate (29 Democrats, 10 Republicans and 1 Independent), Byrne was hoping to pick his own Chief Justice. But Cahill outmaneuvered him by picking Hughes, who was well-liked by some of the Republican Senators in the more congenial 1970’s. Democrats had no choice but to embrace his nomination.

Sill, by naming Hughes, the outgoing Republican Governor shifted the Supreme Court to a 4-3 Democratic majority just as a new Democratic Governor was about to take office.

The time a Chief Justice died after 49 days on the job, and how Brendan Byrne was short-listed for the Supreme Court