TRENTON – Steve Lonegan, state director of the conservative interest group Americans for Prosperity, said strong bipartisan support exists for judicial elections, according to new polling data. The group is beginning an information campaign to inform the media, public, and lawmakers about the state Supreme Court and its impact on the state.
Lonegan was joined in a Statehouse press conference today by conservatives state Sen. Mike Doherty (R-23), of Washington Township; and Assembly members Michael Patrick Carroll (R-25), of Morris Township, and Alison Littell McHose (R-24), of Franklin Township.
The court has handled many policy-shaping decisions, like Abbott v. Burke and So. Burlco NAACP v. Mt. Laurel – “housing to school funding to funding abortions,” Lonegan said.
Doherty said, “The largest part of our budget is how we fund our schools…This entire process has been hijacked by the New Jersey Supreme Court.”
Liberals polled liked the idea of electing judges after some term of appointed service, Lonegan and pollster Rick Shaftan said, which could have kept Supreme Court Justice John Wallace on the bench last year when he was not retained by Gov. Chris Christie. Conservatives like the idea because they believe the court is too liberal, Lonegan said.
They also released an information center website, www.njdisrobed.com, which has information about decisions and implications on the electorate.
Lonegan said he had somewhat of a personal interest after having gone before the court twice to argue for voter-approval for state borrowing.
He said the installation of judicial elections would require a Constitutional amendment, although no one in the legislature is considering it yet.
“This powerful force in government that wields so much influence,” Lonegan said, but very few people know anything about them. “The most important force in democracy is a well educated electorate,” he said.
McHose said local decisions have been “stolen by a runaway judiciary.”
In May polling of 300 likely voters in the November state elections – which Shaftan admitted was conservative-leaning – 78 percent had not heard of Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner. According to the poll, 59 percent are favorable to judicial elections, and 65 percent are in favor of retention elections, like Iowa conducts after a term of appointed service.
Among other results, 52 percent disliked the Abbott decision, and 50 percent thought Christie should have defied the court’s order. “His favorable ratings would have skyrocketed,” Shaftan said.
Also, their poll said the November electorate is “very conservative and very Republican,” with results showing 42 percent of likely voters identified as conservative, compared to only 17 percent identified as liberal. “Perhaps enough,” Shaftan said, “even with the new districts, to deliver them the legislature.”
Carroll said, “The guys and the girls who wear these black robes have no business imposing (policy decisions),” or selectively interpreting the law, like in the “Torricelli switcheroo” where U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg was moved in to replace former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli at the last moment.
Doherty said, “There’s seven people who are not real happy about this press conference,” referring to the top court.