TRENTON – A coalition of lawyers and minority activists wants more diversity on the state’s highest court.
When the N.J. Supreme Court convened on Monday, it was the first time in 20 years that it was comprised entirely of white justices, according to the coalition.
As a result, a group composed of the Garden State Bar Association, the state Conference of the NAACP, Latino Action Network, and other African-American and Latino leaders sent a letter to Senate President Steve Sweeney requesting that the next two nominations include one Latino and one African-American.
When Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto stepped down at the end of August, that left the court with no minority representation.
“Latinos, African-Americans and Asian-Americans comprise in excess of 40 percent of New Jersey’s population and there is little question that our state, like our country, will become decidedly more diverse over the next decade,” Latino Action Network President Frank Argote-Freyre said in a release.
“Notwithstanding this fact, our once ethnically and racially diverse State Supreme Court will, as a result of Governor Christie’s removal of Justice (John) Wallace and nomination of Anne Patterson to fill the vacancy created by Justice Rivera-Soto’s resignation, not have a single justice of color.”
Argote-Freyre said that of the 11 other states as diverse as New Jersey, the only other one that has a state Supreme Court without a minority judge is Arizona.
In addition to concerns about racial and ethnic diversity, the coalition expressed concern over the court’s judicial independence.
“It is a testament to New Jersey’s independent judiciary that the two dissenting justices in the recent Abbott (school funding) decision were both Republican justices appointed by Democratic governors,” stated Garden State Bar President Thom Jackson.
“The Governor has stated that he intends to make appointments that reflect his own partisan ideology. This is precisely the result that the framers of our State Constitution wanted to avoid.”
In addition to ensuring that the next two Supreme Court nominations are minorities and that the court maintain a bipartisan presence, the coalition wants that same standard applied to lower court nominations as well. (The coalition’s letter is attached.)
Patterson was approved and sworn in following a political dispute between Gov. Christie and the Legislature.
Sweeney’s spokesman issued a statement in response to the letter:
“Senate President Sweeney has repeatedly stated that the Supreme Court needs to reflect the diverse citizenry and culture that is New Jersey. Nominees over the past decade from governors not named Chris Christie have constantly shown that commitment.
“Unfortunately, this governor is more worried about a court that is in sync with his ideologically skewed viewpoint than one that is representative of the people of New Jersey. The Senate President is, was and remains committed to a diverse court.”