Led by the Sussex County New Jersey Tea Party Patriots, a coalition of like-minded organizations in the Garden State has filed a petition with the New Jersey Secretary of State to recall Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez.
The Tea Party groups’ official reason for calling for Menendez’s ouster by recall is his support for what the groups see as radical agenda items like President Obama’s healthcare overhaul and the controversial cap-and-trade energy tax legislation. But the effort started months before Menendez’s Christmas Eve vote for the Senate healthcare bill.
Rose Ann Salanitri, founder of the Sussex County Tea Party Patriots and chief spokesperson for the Committee to Recall United States Senator Robert Menendez, told HUMAN EVENTS that she began researching the recall options in New Jersey as early as April of last year.
“I signed up to organize a rally on April 15th. At that rally people were looking for direction—something more than showing up to protest, carry a few signs, and go home and feel good about yourself,” Salanitri said. “I looked into several possibilities that didn’t look viable, until I stumbled upon the recall option we have in New Jersey. I began researching this and was convinced that this was indeed something we could do.”
New Jersey is one of 18 states whose constitutions grant voters the right to recall federal elected officials. In New Jersey, a recall petition must be filed and approved by the Secretary of State, and the petitioning group must collect signatures from 25% of the registered voting population in the district, or 1.3 million in the case of a statewide elected official like Menendez.
The group filed its notice of intent to begin a recall petition with the Secretary of State’s office on September 25. But the administration of former Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine sat on the application for over two months, ignoring the statutory requirement to rule on the petition within three days. Because of the delay, the Tea Party groups could not begin collecting signatures, dashing their hopes of qualifying the recall petition in time for the November mid-term elections.
Frustrated by the delays, the Tea Party groups filed suit in state court in late November, seeking an order for the Secretary of State to act on the petition. Again the Corzine administration did not respond. Ultimately, the group filed for summary judgment against the state in early December. The state finally ruled a month later, just before Corzine left office to be succeeded by Republican Gov. Chris Christie. The petition was denied on the Secretary of State’s determination that New Jersey’s constitutional provision for recall of federal officials violated the United States Constitution.
The Tea Party groups sued again and the courts finally ruled in late February that the recall petition must be allowed to go forward. In its decision, the state appellate court declined to take a position on the question of whether New Jersey’s recall statute is constitutional.
“There is no express textual answer to this debate in the United States Constitution,” the court unanimously held. “Nor is there any precedent from the United States Supreme Court squarely on point. The briefs and arguments in this appeal do not convince us that we can safely predict what the United States Supreme Court would do if it were presented with the issue. Although many commentators have suggested that such recall measures are, in fact, invalid, such analyses involve debate about the true meaning and intent of the Framers.”
The issue is now pending before the New Jersey Supreme Court. Briefs in the case are due later this month and a final ruling is expected by early June.
Richard Luzzi, attorney for the Tea Party Patriots, told HUMAN EVENTS that he expects the state supreme court to affirm the lower court’s decision.
“In New Jersey, briefs filed with the Supreme Court are the same filed at appellate division,” Luzzi said. “I’m confident that court will follow that opinion, especially with the language that the appellate court used.”
Asked to gauge the group’s chances before the U.S. Supreme Court in a likely appeal, Luzzi demurred. But he said nothing in the body of the Constitution or the 17th Amendment—which provided for the direct election of U.S. senators—precludes recall.
Luzzi said that the right to recall federal officials predates the Constitution, going back to the Articles of Confederation where it is specifically granted in Article V. “If you go back in the history of the United States, and if the court decides that all political power rests with the people, then the people have the right to recall,” Luzzi said.
Salanitri is confident that the recall petition will ultimately succeed, although it will likely not be on the ballot in November. “We are putting a lot of effort into this movement and we are doing that with the anticipation that we will prevail,” she said. “Of course, we have a difficult road before us, and collecting 1.3 million signatures will not be a walk in the park. But we will do everything within our power to restore the principles our country was founded upon, and recall seems to be something within our power."
Cartoon courtesy of Brett Noel