News from pressofAtlanticCity.com:
It's the first time in more than 60 years that a governor has refused to reappoint a Supreme Court justice after his or her initial seven-year term, and it injects blatant political considerations into the judicial process. By removing a respected justice with an unblemished record for purely ideological reasons, Christie has undermined the independence and credibility of the Supreme Court - something every governor before him has refused to do since the state's 1947 constitution was ratified.
Before 1947, New Jersey's judges had to serve two seven-year terms before being reappointed for life. The modern state constitution changed that to one seven-year term. Why? To better ensure that judges were free to make independent decisions without regard to their reappointment.
Christie has attacked the Supreme Court from the beginning of his political career, assailing decisions on school funding, gay marriage and affordable housing, among others. That is his right. But Wallace is a centrist. He took the conservative position on gay marriage and was not even on the court for some of the decisions Christie most objects to.
Furthermore, Wallace, the court's only black justice, would have reached mandatory retirement age and had to step down in March 2012 even if he had been reappointed. Christie could have replaced him then and avoided sending the corrupting message to the state's judges that, if they want to be reappointed, their decisions better reflect the governor's political ideology.
But as Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, who worked under Christie in the U.S. Attorney's Office, noted in an rare public criticism of Christie's decision: "Citizens who turn to the courts for relief are entitled to have their cases resolved by impartial judges who focus only on the even-handed pursuit of justice."
And perhaps the worst result of Christie's unprecedented move? Democrats will retaliate the next time one of them is governor, further undermining judicial independence in New Jersey.