Lambda Legal and Advocates Urge Gov. Christie to Stop Playing Politics with the Court
(New York, May 5, 2014) - Lambda Legal today launched a multi-faceted campaign in conjunction with New Jersey-based legal organizations, citizens groups, and unions to persuade New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie not to play politics with the New Jersey Supreme Court. The New Jersey Supreme Court currently has two vacancies, and Chief Justice Rabner is up for reappointment.
"If a law unconstitutionally discriminates against people or deprives them of equality or liberty, it is a judge's duty to strike that law down," said Eric Lesh, Fair Courts Project Manager for Lambda Legal. "Whether it's the freedom to marry, affordable housing or equality in education, the people of New Jersey need to trust that the courts will safeguard their constitutional rights. We do not want judges looking over their shoulders to make sure they aren't deciding a case in a way that is at odds with a governor's political agenda."
In 2010, Gov. Christie became the first New Jersey governor since the ratification of the New Jersey constitution in 1947 to not reappoint a sitting Supreme Court justice. Many reacted with shock when he chose to end the service of Justice John Wallace, a respected jurist and the New Jersey Supreme Court's only African-American justice. In 2012, the governor declined to reappoint another sitting Supreme Court member, Justice Helen Hoens. There are currently two vacancies on the seven-member Court; if Justice Rabner is not reappointed, the state's highest court will have three vacancies and only four justices.
Lambda Legal and other advocates for fair courts are concerned that Gov. Christie will once again play politics with the Court, this time regarding the reappointment of Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, author of an October 2013, decision in Garden State Equality v. Dow that was instrumental in providing the freedom for same-sex couples to marry in the state. Gov. Christie roundly criticized the ruling.
The campaign to protect the courts includes a video, online petition and other activities to engage residents of New Jersey to speak out about protecting the courts from improper political influence. Organizations joining Lambda Legal in the petition effort include: CWA New Jersey, New Jersey Citizen Action, Latino Action Network, and Blue Jersey.
"As the victory for marriage equality in New Jersey shows, we often have to go to court to fight for our rights," Lesh added. "When we do, we absolutely have to trust that the process was fair -- win or lose. Judges do not serve the governor - they serve the people and protect the very structure of our democracy. Courts provide an important check on the executive and legislative branches to protect us from overreach, safeguarding our cherished constitutional rights and liberties, especially when we're not in the majority. We need fair courts."
View Lambda Legal's video: "Bullying the Bench: Governor Christie's Attack on New Jersey's Courts," here: http://youtu.be/1Cfi7JAf9nM
The petition is available here: http://www.lambdalegal.org/petitioning-governor-christie