TRENTON – Extending the retirement age for state judges — the primary subject of discussion at an Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing today — isn’t the only problem ailing New Jersey’s judicial system, according Assemblyman and committee member Michael Patrick Carroll (R-25).
Following the meeting, which heard testimony from representatives of the Administrative Offices of the Courts and the New Jersey Bar Association, Carroll laid out a number of comprehensive reforms he’d like to see accompany potential legislation that would extend the mandatory retirement age for judges — from 70 to 75, under one proposed bill.
“I don’t think [extending the retirement age for judges] should be all that controversial,” Carroll told PolitickerNJ. “But the judiciary could certainly use a little work. For example the appellate division is appointed exclusively at the hands of the chief justice, and that’s a hell of a lot of authority and power to basically be able to hand pick all the people who are going to be the intermediate appellate courts, I mean he can basically shape it to be the perspective of one guy.”
Arguments given for extending the mandatory retirement age for judges ranged from competency issues — people live longer today than they did when the constitution was adopted in 1948 — to overburden courthouses in the state dealing with judicial vacancies resulting from political conflict and natural turn over. Proponents of a constitutional amendment to extend the age say it would fix at least one of those problems — the natural turn over, which forces judges off the bench well before their biological clock tells them they should.
But Carroll maintains that, at best, such an extension would only help to relieve shortages in the short term. Political conflicts, like the one between the governor’s office and the legislature earlier this year over judicial nominations in Essex County, would persist.
Carroll recommends ridding the state’s upper house from its ability to prevent judicial appoints through such tactics as senatorial courtesy. Most recently, state Senators like Ron Rice (D-28) and Richard Codey (D-27) have used the rule to prevent Gov. Chris Christie from appointing disagreeable candidates to posts in their own districts.
“The politics of it is the senate doesn’t want to give up it’s discretion,” Carroll said. “But the simple fact of the matter is that they should be deprived of their right to keep an entire seat open for eight years. That’s ridiculous.”
Retention elections is another reform Carroll has routinely proposed.
“The idea that once every five or six years the judges have to go before the people and get re-appointed, like they do in California or Iowa or other places,” he said. “And that means if you’re really truly off the reservation the people can strike back at you. So there’s a lot of issues I would like to see woven into this.”