TRENTON – State Supreme Court nominee Bruce Harris told the Senate Judiciary Committee today of overcoming racial opposition while fashioning a legal career that has brought him to a possible seat on the state’s highest court.
Harris, mayor of Chatham, openly gay and facing strong Democratic Party opposition on the committee, told the senators of growing up as one of the few African-Americans in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where a neighborhood petition was drawn up that said his family’s presence would cause property values to decline.
“Incidents like these arose to remind me I was not fully accepted by the world in which I was growing up,’’ he said.
Undaunted, he pursued his education, graduating from Amherst College in Massachusetts. Later in Boston he met his partner of 32 years, Mark, and together they moved to New Jersey in 1981 for what he thought would be a two-year assignment with AT&T.
But the Garden State became their home, and after attending law school at Yale, he returned to New Jersey and pursued a legal career with Riker Danzig. He worked on deals exceeding $8 billion involving some of the state’s major banks, hospitals, and libraries.
The lack of in-court experience is one major obstacle Democrats have cited leading up to today’s hearing.
But Harris said that as an openly gay justice, he would hope to set an example for others.
Sen. Thomas Kean Jr., in introducing Harris to the committee, said that he was a man of “impeccable character,” with a “sharp legal mind, and a long record of legal service.”
Kean said Harris is a compassionate individual, an extraordinarily hard worker, and someone who would bring a diverse background to the court.
And, Kean said, as mayor of Chatham, Harris has an understanding of the impact Supreme Court rulings have on taxpayers.