TRENTON – It might as well have been the Phil Kwon hearing replayed again Thursday afternoon, at least from a vote perspective.
With the exception of one lawmaker- Sen. Brian Stack, (D-33), of Union City – the vote by the Judiciary Committee to release the nomination of Bruce Harris to assistant justice on the state Supreme Court was along party lines.
Republicans Jennifer Beck, Kip Bateman, Gerry Cardinale, Kevin O’Toole and Joe Kyrillos voted yes. Stack also joined them.
However, the majority Democrats – Nellie Poe, Paul Sarlo, Loretta Weinberg, Linda Greenstein, Ray Lesniak, Nia Gill and Chairman Nicholas Scutari – voted no.
O’Toole voted yes on the nomination, citing Harris’ life experience, professional credentials of holding both an MBA and law degree, and having had a “distinguished and accomplished career.”
“I don’t see a black man. I don’t see a gay man. I see a proud American who’s done incredible things with his life.”
Kyrillos said before voting for Harris’s nomination that it should send a clear signal to the currently “activist” Supreme Court.
“The days for the activist court should be numbered,” he said. “We intend to reassert our authority.”
Cardinale kept it short, mostly avoiding a flowery speech, and saying “I vote yes.”
Beck also said Harris possesses “intellectual capacity” and understands the true role of Supreme Court justices.
“You’re really an anomaly ….You reached this nomination just through your excellence. Very few have done that.”
Weinberg said that while Harris had “a great personal story,” she said he has not distinguished himself in the areas of courtroom experience
“I still have a major problem with you having to recuse yourself on the issue of marriage equality,” she said. “This recusal came at a very hyper time. It troubles me. I cannot follow the logic.”
Stack, the only Democrat who voted for Phil Kwon in March, said: “I believe you would be a great justice. You do have my vote. I vote yes.”
Greenstein also said that the Supreme Court is “the last stop for the people of New Jersey” and the most qualified individuals should be appointed to it.
“There are some people who would be superior and we should continue to look for that.”
Sarlo said while Harris had “a nice story to tell, I have a difficult time getting over that experience factor. I take no glory in casting this vote because you’re a good person. Not getting over the experience factor, I vote no.”
Poe said Harris’ lack of experience as a litigator at any level was regrettable, adding that past justices have had at least some litigation experience. “I believe it’s essential that he not only be bright, but has practical litigation experience on which to draw.”
He said the Harris nomination “falls short of the standards we must set.”
Lesniak, who has said he found it regrettable that Christie didn’t reappoint Justice John Wallace, said he feared Harris would take his marching orders from someone else.
“I’m really concerned about the independence of our judiciary,” he said. “I’m not convinced he would be the independent decider on the Supreme Court because of his recusal and the surroundings.”
Gill said, “I vote no,” also stating that she believe Harris would not be independent-minded, as his statement on recusal on a same sex marriage case showed.
Scutari ended the hearing by also saying Harris was not sufficiently qualified.