STATE — The swearing in of the Anne Murray Patterson as associate justice of the state Supreme Court last week marked the end of black and Hispanic representation on New Jersey’s highest court.
Patterson was initially nominated by Republican Gov. Chris Christie in 2010 to replace Justice John E. Wallace Jr., the only black member of the court and the first sitting judge denied a lifetime appointment after his first seven year term. The state Senate blocked the confirmation process.
“It’s never been done before, and Gov. Christie has now started a dangerous precedent that I do not believe the Senate will allow to stand,” said Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), a member of the Judiciary Committee. “It’s not about this appointee. Justice Wallace has done absolutely nothing to be not reappointed, and Christie asserting his political will in this manner is a very dangerous precedent.”
An editorial in the Star-Ledger declared, “Removing Wallace would be a serious mistake that would weaken the court’s independence and inflame partisan passions over confirmation battles for years to come.”
The Republican Governor defended his action. “The court over the course of the last three decades has gotten out of control,” Christie said. “It inappropriately invaded the executive and legislative constitutional functions.”
“It’s not for the court to set some of the policies that I believe that they’ve set and I’ve talked all during the campaign about changing the court,” Christie said. “The only way to change the court is to change its members.”
Christie has taken direct action to undo some of those ‘invaded’ functions by attempting to reduce school funding despite rulings requiring the state to provide parity in education for children residing in the poorest districts. Christie has also sought to abolish New Jersey’s affordable housing program.
Patterson’s appointment was eventually confirmed when Christie agreed to have her replace retiring Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto instead.
While the seven-member court now includes five women, marking the first time in state history that it has a female majority, it is the first time since 1994 that it lacks a minority justice.
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