Movement conservatives have been upset with the campaign strategy of Chris Christie, his positions on energy issues, and his self-association with Barack Obama. I also have written columns on this website critical of both the Republican candidate and his campaign. In many ways, I have been more disappointed by Christie than any other Republican statewide candidate over the past two decades.
Aside from party loyalty, however, there is one issue that motivates me to continue to strongly support Chris Christie for Governor: the appointment of justices to the New Jersey Supreme Court. During the next four years, two New Jersey Supreme Court justices will reach the mandatory retirement age, and two others will be up for reappointment.
Christie himself phrased the issue most articulately in an interview published yesterday with New York Times journalists David M. Halbfinger and David Kocieniewski. In response to a question regarding the shape of the court at the end of his term, Christie responded directly, “I think that it would be different than it is now, and I don’t think the way that the Supreme Court has operated on a number of issues has been helpful to the people of New Jersey. I don’t think legislating from the bench is ever helpful. I think we should legislate from the Legislature.”
When asked by the two Times journalists for examples of overreaching and legislation from the bench by the state’s high court, Christie answered “Abbott [v. Burke, which mandated parity in school financing for poor urban districts]. Mount Laurel [which required towns to build moderately priced housing]. Lautenberg-Torricelli [which allowed Frank R. Lautenberg to replace Robert G. Torricelli on the ballot for Senate after Mr. Torricelli withdrew weeks before the 2002 election.] Lautenberg-Torricelli is the greatest piece of legislation from the bench I’ve ever seen.”
As a conservative who advocates judicial restraint and the appointment of strict constructionist justices to both federal and state courts, I was most pleased by Christie’s answers. In fact, I do not understand why he did not emphasize his views on the state Supreme Court earlier in the campaign.
Christie’s views on Abbott and its effects on suburban property taxes would have given him one of two essential planks in a property tax platform, the other being the need to control local municipal and school district costs. Had he propounded such a property tax platform and made it the centerpiece of his campaign, he would be leading comfortably in the polls in this last weekend of the campaign, rather than struggling to survive.
What is past is prologue, however. Republicans have a unique historic opportunity to change the direction of the Supreme Court and thereby affect critical issues such as property taxes and development for the next generation. Conservatives owe it to themselves to give Christie this opportunity.
If Christie is elected and fails to keep his pledge to appoint strict constructionist justices, then this would justify a primary election fight against him by a conservative Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2013. For now, conservative Republicans must support Christie and hope for the best. Otherwise, they will allow Jon Corzine to ensure the continued existence of a liberal activist New Jersey Supreme Court for at least the next fifteen years.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and seven federally recognized Indian nations.