Governor Chris Christie and Senate President Stephen Sweeney have resolved their year-long dispute regarding filling vacancies on the State Supreme Court. As previously discussed here and here and here, the Governor and the Democratically controlled Senate have been at an impasse to fill the vacancy created by the Governor’s refusal to reappoint Justice Wallace to the Court. In May 2010, Governor Christie refused to reappoint Wallace to a full term to the Court. He in turn nominated Anne Patterson to fill Wallace’s seat. The Senate refused to conduct hearings on the Patterson nomination until the full Wallace term would have expired in 2012. This position was taken by the Senate, as no other governor had refused to reappoint a sitting justice.
During this impasse, the Chief Justice elevated the senior most Appellate Judge to temporarily fill the Wallace vacancy. This resulted in Justice Rivera-Soto proclaiming that he felt the Chief Justice acted unconstitutionally in elevating the Appellate Judge to the Supreme Court and refused to participate in any case in which that judge also participated. Justice Rivera-Soto subsequently tempered his position and said that he would not participate in cases in which the Appellate Judge cast a deciding vote. Due to this position, lawmakers called for Rivera-Soto to immediately resign or be impeached. In January, Rivera-Soto informed the Governor that he would not seek reappointment to the high court. His term will end on August 31st.
In the compromise reached by the Governor and Sweeney, Christie will withdraw the Patterson nomination for Wallace’s seat and resubmit that nomination for Rivera-Soto’s seat. The Wallace seat will remain “open”, with an Appellate Judge assigned, until March. At that time, the Governor will make his nomination for that seat. At that time, Justice Virginia Long’s seat will also become “open” due to the justice reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.
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