TRENTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari, (D-22), of Linden, was the first lawmaker to lean into Supreme Court nominee Anne Patterson today at her afternoon hearing.
He first asked how Patterson could “put aside any bias you may have” following a career defending big businesses in product liability cases.
Patterson said she had a varied history of legal defense, including representation of individuals and non-profits, as well as corporations. She also pointed Scutari to her opening remarks where she explicitly said she is prepared to do the job of the court in defending the Constitution and the right of individuals.
“The governor would like to rein in judicial activism,” Scutari said. “Do you think that judicial activism is a problem in the New Jersey courts?”
She said judicial activism is “not a term that I use,” and one that – when asked to define it – produces as many answers as persons asked.
Scutari asked Patterson what her political affiliations were.
“I am a Republican,” Patterson said, but “I have not been involved with politics (so) I would not say it’s fair to say that I have political leanings.”
Scutari asked, then, what makes her a Republican.
“I’m a Republican,” she said, “because, for the most part, (those were the candidates I voted for),” although not always. Scutari also asked what contemporary politician her views align with, but Patterson declined an answer.
Scutari asked her whether she agrees with the outrage against Gov. Christie’s non-appointment of tenure for Justice John Wallace last year.
“I certainly respect the views that were expressed last year,” she said, but she had no reaction personally. She said she’ll never consider attainment of tenure in future decisions, regardless of the status at the time of Trenton politics.
“My decisions will be my own,” she said.
Scutari said it was an “unprecedented event; Do you believe Justice Wallace was an activist judge?”
Patterson said, “The term activist to me is not a term I choose to use (for judges). I have great respect for (Wallace).”
Trying to drive a wedge between Patterson and Christie, Scutari asked whether she had any reaction to the governor’s remarks about reshaping the court.
She’s heard the press accounts, Patterson said, but, “I leave it to the governor to speak for himself.”
State Sen. Nia Gill, (D-34), of Montclair, asked Gill how many times she has been to Christie’s house, given that they both live in Mendham Township.
Patterson gave a small laugh and thanked Gill for the question since Patterson had seen that she and Christie were neighbors in print several times.
“I have never been to the governor’s house,” she said. “We’re not neighbors (but) met through legal cases about 20 years ago.”
In response to another question, Patterson said successful Supreme Court justices, in her opinion, engage in sharp, respectful questioning; render clear, concise decisions; and work hard at their job.