WASHINGTON -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) made two historic nominations to the New Jersey State Supreme Court on Monday, continuing his push to diversify the judicial branch.
Bruce A. Harris is mayor of Chatham, N.J. and a lawyer with 20 years of experience. As an openly gay African-American man, he would become the third African-American to ever serve on the State Supreme Court and the first openly LGBT member.
Christie's other nominee, Phillip H. Kwon, is the first assistant attorney general in the state Department of Law and Public Safety and former deputy chief of the U.S. attorney's office criminal division. If approved, he would become the first Asian-American to serve on the court and the first immigrant to serve since the 1947 State Constitution created the court.
"Today is an important and historic symbol for New Jersey and our country," said Christie. "I am proud to be nominating two legal professionals who not only have a passion for this state and a dedication to the legal system, but also capture New Jersey's great diversity."
Chris Geidner at Metro Weekly reported that Christie personally called Garden State Equality Executive Director Steven Goldstein to tell him about Harris' nomination.
"As I told the Governor right then and there, you could have picked me up off the floor," Goldstein said in a statement.
The State Supreme Court is currently composed of five women and two men, all of whom are white. Christie has faced pressure to add racial diversity to the court.
The newest member is Anne Paterson, who was sworn in as a justice in September. Her confirmation created a female majority in the State Supreme Court for the first time.
Christie's two latest nominations are subject to confirmation by the New Jersey Senate. While Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) has called on Christie to add more racial diversity to the court, he has also been critical of Christie's nominations. The Democratic-controlled Senate held up held up Patterson's nomination for a year, to protest what it called the governor's unprecedented move to deny tenure to another sitting Supreme Court justice.
According to the New Jersey Star-Ledger, Christie "has emphasized that he wants to remake the Supreme Court, which he blames for tying his hands on such issues as financing poor school districts and affordable housing. Last May the state Supreme Court voted 3-2 to force the state to pay $500 million more than Christie had budgeted for New Jersey's poorest school districts."
Christie has also taken some heat from fellow conservatives for his efforts to diversify the judicial branch.
In August, Christie named Sohail Mohammed, a Muslim-American man, to the State Superior Court. Critics of the appointment said they were concerned that Mohammed would be influenced by Islamic code of law known as Sharia.
Christie said he was "disgusted" by the comments being made by Mohammed's right-wing critics.
"They are criticizing him because he is a Muslim American," said Christie, adding, "This Sharia Law business is crap. It's just crazy, and I'm tired of dealing with the crazies. It's just unnecessary to be accusing this guy of things just because of his religious background."