TRENTON – Three Republican Senators and an Assemblywoman called on the Senate to schedule a hearing for Anne Patterson, who was nominated by Gov. Chris Christie for the state Supreme Court earlier this year.
State Sen. Diane Allen (R-Edgewater Park) said the hearing would cure all the ills of the high court before it heads into a critical stretch early in the new year, especially the hearing of another round in the Abbott school funding case.
“It’s a constitutional issue,” Allen said of the Senate leadership’s refusal to hold a hearing on Patterson, with state Sens. Jennifer Beck (R-Red Bank) and Dawn Marie Addiego (R-Evesham), and Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande (R-Colts Neck) by her side.
Patterson has been nominated for a seat that became open this year when Christie refused to reappoint Justice John Wallace, trampling a longstanding tradition to reappoint justices unless they have become a disgrace to the bench. Wallace was approaching his mandatory retirement age in 2012 – not coincidentally when state Sen. Pres. Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) said Patterson will get her hearing.
Even if Christie broke tradition with Wallace, Allen said the Senate is bound by oath to hold a hearing on Patterson. Unlike the legislature, Christie had no constitutional duty to reappoint Wallace.
“(T)radition and deal-cutting,” Allen said, are not constitutionally required.
But the three women refrained from criticizing the sit-in protest of Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto, who believes Chief Justice Stuart Rabner’s decision to name an interim replacement for Wallace is unconstitutional in itself.
“He was echoing the opinion of a Rutgers professor,” Beck said.
“The situation is out of hand,” Allen admitted, but said it was the Patterson hearing that could “get everybody back to work.”
Asked whether calling out the Senate for avoiding duty while Rivera-Soto refuses to hear cases is hypocritical, Allen again came back to a Senate hearing that could “eliminate that conflict.”
On Rivera-Soto, Beck said the legislators have no influence over what the judges do, and called impeachment talk “ridiculous.”
Questioned on the possibility that Christie takes advantage of a legislative recess to make the appointment – or whether the Senate ever recesses to allow it – Allen mooted the point.
“I know that the governor is not looking to make a recess appointment,” she said, hoping that instead Patterson will get an up-or-down vote.
The women said Patterson is quite qualified having been a deputy attorney general and rated among the best business lawyers in America, according to Addiego. They said they couldn’t imagine the full Senate denying her appointment based on her merits.
The women came forward to press the issue because of the court’s increasing inner turmoil, but also because they have a rooting interest: With one more woman appointed to the bench, half of New Jersey’s court would be female.