This year’s gubernatorial election provided New Jerseyans a chance to make a tangible difference in an aspect of New Jersey government that voters usually cannot easily affect: the New Jersey Supreme Court. Mary Fuchs’ November 2, 2009 article in the New Jersey Star Ledger correctly announces that the “Supreme Court’s future [is] in hands of the next governor” because of the number of New Jersey Supreme Court Justices who will retire or be up for reappointment in the next four years. Chris Christie’s comments make clear that his view of the proper role of judges most closely matches the views of the people of New Jersey, making him the best positioned to “handle” the Supreme Court’s future.
Christie recently stated, “I want someone who is extraordinarily bright, and I want someone who will interpret laws and the Constitution, not legislate from the bench.” Christie previously has explained “I will remake the court and I will remake it in this one simple principle. If you [want to] legislate [then] run for the Legislature, don’t put on a black robe and go to the Supreme Court and there won’t be any justices that I either reappoint or put on that court that do that.”
This concept of judicial restraint is hardly controversial or partisan. Not surprisingly, 69 percent of New Jerseyans recently polled support this concept of judicial restraint (defined as “when a judge views his or her role solely as an evaluator of whether a law or lower court ruling is in line with the state constitution”). Even President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, then-Judge Sonya Sotomayor readily admitted during her confirmation hearings: “The task of a judge is not to make the law — it is to apply the law.”
The importance of the composition and the judicial philosophy of the New Jersey Supreme Court is clear from the Court’s willingness to insert itself into many aspects of New Jerseyans’ lives (and pocketbooks). Examples of this include the Court’s rewriting the election statute governing the deadlines for ballots; dictating how New Jersey spends money on education; mandating where and how much low income housing is placed in each municipality; and concluding that illegal aliens are "residents" of New Jersey for purposes of recovering money for car accidents under the uninsured-motorists fund. Many complain about the difficulty in holding these Justices accountable for these decisions because they are not elected. Yet in the 2009 gubernatorial election, New Jersey took the chance to elect a governor who may change the approach of the New Jersey Supreme Court.
New Jerseyans have long believed it is not the place of the Supreme Court — or any court — to create law or "legislate from the bench." Finally, we have a New Jersey gubernatorial candidate who believes making law is the sole province of the legislature.