TRENTON – When nominees are submitted for the approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a little known chamber rule protects their internal communications with the decision-making lawmakers and other government officials.
So when answers to internal questionnaires for Gov. Chris Christie’s two N.J. Supreme Court nominees popped up in a Star-Ledger report today, GOP leaders took umbrage and called for punishment.
The newspaper printed information regarding Christie’s high court nominees, Bruce Harris and Phil Kwon, that came from the questionnaires made available by an unnamed source. Republicans said this information has always been confidential and two senators wrote a letter to state Sen. President Steve Sweeney, (D-3), West Deptford, to ask for an investigation into the leak and punishment for anyone found in violation of the chamber’s rule on confidentiality.
“The party or parties responsible for the leak of information provided by Bruce Harris and Phil Kwon on a confidential basis has not only damaged the integrity of the confirmation process, but has also called into question their own fitness to serve on a committee which routinely handles sensitive and deeply personal information pertaining to appointments,” said Minority Leader Tom Kean, (R-21), Westfield, in a release. “It is now clear that one or more members of the Senate cannot discharge their duties in an impartial manner, and are attempting to prevent the Senate from giving these nominees due process based on personal bias.”
Senate Majority spokesman Derek Roseman responded in an email: “The Senate President takes very seriously the release of sensitive and confidential material. Anyone found to have done so will be dealt with appropriately.” Roseman did not respond to follow-up questions seeking more information about how Sweeney intends to handle the dustup.
The nominees’ answers to the questionnaires may have been offered up by the candidates publicly in a hearing had a senator asked plainly; but until then, the GOP lawmakers said, the decision whether to make the information public was up to the nominees – not partisan committee members.
State Sen. Gerry Cardinale, (R-39), Demarest, said whoever released the information “committed a serious violation of the rules of the Senate.” He called on Senate Judiciary Chairman Nicholas Scutari, (D-22), Linden, to conduct a hearing to investigate the matter with all members under oath.
“Furthermore,” Cardinale said, “should that investigation identify the party or parties responsible, it is incumbent upon the Senate President to uphold the rules of this body and discipline the appropriate member or members for disorderly conduct pursuant to the State Constitution.”
Kean added that accelerating confirmation proceedings is the “only way to restore integrity to the process, allow the nominees to answer Senators’ questions, and ensure the nominees are not made to twist in the wind in front of the press.”