Lawmakers say Supreme Court’s ruling won’t be the final word

TRENTON – In light of a Supreme Court ruling today telling lawmakers and the governor that they overstepped their authority in enacting New Jersey’s landmark pension and benefit reform, legislators are already vowing to continue their fight to ensure judges pay their fair share, officials said.

In less than an hour after the state’s high court handed down a divided decision on a lawsuit that argued the state Constitution strictly prohibits a sitting judge’s salary from being reduced while he or she is a sitting judge, Senate lawmakers on both sides of the aisle issued statements saying the ruling won’t be the last word.

“While I am disappointed in the court’s ruling, it will not be the final word on this issue. The reforms we passed last year are essential to ensuring the health and viability of every one of the state’s pension systems,” Senate President Steve Sweeney said in a statement.

“My goal from the beginning has been to protect both the taxpayers who foot the bill and the public employees who were promised a pension. No one should be treated differently. The pension system of our judges can go bankrupt just as easily as any, and perhaps even more easily given its current poor health,” he continued. “I am committed to putting this issue to rest.”

Senate Democrats would not elaborate on how the Senate president planned to put the issue to rest, however Sweeney has proposed a constitutional amendment, SCR110, that would clarify the Legislature’s authority to pass laws regarding taking contributions from justices’ and certain judges’ salaries for employee benefits, according to the proposal.

The Supreme Court’s 3-2 decision essentially ruled that judicial pensions for sitting judges are protected under the state Constitution. The state’s pension and benefit reform would have ultimately amounted to a salary cut for sitting judges, according to the ruling.

On the other side of the aisle, Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean (R-21) issued a statement largely agreeing with Sweeney, calling today’s ruling “wrong.”

“… If it is the justices’ position that the law is unconstitutional then the state constitution is flawed and needs to be changed,” he said in a statement. “Judges should not be insulated from economic reality by a dubious claim that paying their fair share for the richest benefits in state government is an impediment to judicial independence.”

Sweeney’s proposal, which has bipartisan support, was released unanimously from a Senate committee in June. An identical proposal has already been introduced in the Assembly.

Lawmakers say Supreme Court’s ruling won’t be the final word