Saying that Democratic New Jersey state senators conducted a "political assassination" while making "a mockery of the process," Gov. Chris Christie (R) attacked the state Senate committee that defeated his state Supreme Court nominee Thursday.
Christie made his remarks at a Trenton press conference shortly after the Democratic-led Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-6 against confirming Chatham, N.J., Mayor Bruce Harris, a gay, black Republican public finance attorney, to the state Supreme Court. Harris is the governor's second Supreme Court nominee to be denied Senate confirmation this year in an increasingly bitter clash between Christie and the Senate.
"Democrats decided that merit doesn't matter," Christie said at the news conference. "That intellect doesn't actually matter. That temperament doesn't matter. That diversity doesn't matter either. The only thing that matters is politics."
Senate Democrats rejected Harris following an almost five-hour hearing, raising concerns about his lack of trial experience in a two-decade legal career, along with his promise to recuse himself in cases involving gay marriage. Harris said he was an advocate on the issue in 2009 and sent an email to local legislators in favor of the issues. He and his partner held a fundraiser at their house in favor of the issue.
Democrats also attacked Harris' lack of published legal writing, including not seeking to publish an article he wrote when he graduated from Yale Law School. Harris and Senate Republicans said thousands of pages of legal briefs and documents that Harris wrote are on file with state economic development and public finance agencies. Sen. Brian Stack (D-Union City), a Christie ally, was the only Democrat to support Harris.
Christie singled out Sen. Nia Gill (D-Montclair) for individual criticism, citing her remarks that she believed Harris reached a deal with Christie to recuse himself on the gay marriage vote in exchange for the court appointment. Gill, who is running in a Democratic congressional primary on Tuesday, said Harris' logic would have prevented Thurgood Marshall from voting on civil rights cases when he was on the U.S. Supreme Court.
"In a day of just ridiculous, reprehensible conduct, Nia Gill gets the prize," Christie said. "She just makes things up. She invokes Thurgood Marshall to disparage Bruce Harris. Bruce Harris did not make any deal to get on the New Jersey Supreme Court. He made a decision that he informed me of after I nominated him. She should be ashamed of herself."
Christie noted that Harris denied Gill's allegation during the hearing. Christie said Harris' recusal was based on his advocacy for the same-sex marriage issue in his capacity as an elected official in Chatham. During the hearing, Harris said that he advocated for the issue as a private citizen -- not as an elected official. He told senators he had no plans to recuse himself from cases regarding issues he lobbied for as an elected official, including those involving pension and collective bargaining reform. He said in those cases he was expressing the wishes of Chatham residents and not his own.
Christie said he believes Democrats voted down Harris because he is a Republican. Under New Jersey tradition that dates from the 1947 state constitution, the seven-member court has had no more than four members of one party. The court, which currently has two vacancies, has two Republicans, two Democrats and one independent. Democrats have said they believe the independent -- Justice Jaynee LaVecchia -- is actually really a Republican who served in former Gov. Christie Whitman's (R) cabinet and donated to Republican candidates in the 1990s.
Christie's first state Supreme Court nominee -- first assistant state attorney general Phil Kwon -- is an independent, but recently was registered as a Republican. Christie said custom should allow him to name a majority of the court who are Republicans.
"Just when I thought the reputation of this committee could not get lower, it has," the governor said of Judiciary Committee members. Christie said he believes Harris' fate was decided before the committee was gaveled into session Thursday morning.
"Bruce Harris never had a chance, he was never given one," Christie said. "They were engaged in a political assassination."