TRENTON – Saying that he did not want to subject her to the confirmation process, Gov. Chris Christie chose not to re-nominate New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Helen Hoens. Instead, he selected Camden County Assignment Judge Faustino J. Fernandez-Vina, another Republican, to fill the seat.
New Jersey requires justices to be re-nominated and re-confirmed after seven years of service. Since Christie took office, the Democrat-controlled state Senate has confirmed only one of Christie’s nominees to the court. Two others were rejected – an unprecedented move – and two more are still awaiting a hearing.
“I simply could not be party to the destruction of Helen Hoen’s professional reputation,” Christie said when announcing his latest court nominee. “I’m taking responsibility for not allowing this group of people do to her what they did to [previous nominees] Phil Kwon and Bruce Harris.”
New Jersey State Bar Association President Ralph J. Lamparello criticized the politicization of the process. “For nearly 20 years, Justice Helen E. Hoens has served the people of New Jersey with distinction as a judge of the Superior Court, as a judge of the Appellate Division and for the past seven years as a Justice of our Supreme Court,” he said. “She does not deserve to be treated as a political pawn in the battle between the Governor and the Legislature over our Courts.”
“Governor Christie has now twice broken with 60 years of tradition and ignored the clear intention of the framers of our 1947 Constitution to create a strong and independent judiciary, what former U. S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist called the ‘crown jewel’ of our democracy. The clear intent of our Constitution is that judges were to be denied tenure only in limited circumstances, and never for political reasons,” Lamparello added. “The result of today’s action will be further erosion of the independence of our courts, whose role as the third branch of government is to balance the other two branches and to protect the rights of the citizens of this state.”
“Camden Assignment Judge Fernandez-Vina stands out on the list of uniquely qualified Supreme Court nominees that the most-successful U.S. Attorney for New Jersey has put forth for this Senate to confirm,” said Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union). “Assignment Judge Fernandez-Vina has an impressive track-record that has earned him a pair of overwhelming New Jersey Senate confirmations, appointment to the state Superior Court by a Democratic governor and resounding praise from Chief Justice Stuart Rabner. Fernandez-Vina brings diversity as a Hispanic man who stands to be the only Supreme Court Justice from South Jersey.”
“I am immensely grateful for having had the opportunity to serve the people of the State of New Jersey over the course of the last 19½ years as a judge at the trial level, as a judge of the Appellate Division and, most recently, as a Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey,” Hoens said. “ I am of course saddened that I will not be able to continue in this extraordinary professional calling, but I am thankful beyond words for the great privilege and honor of having been able to serve the people of this great State as a Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court.”
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