Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey gave the sharpest rebuke that any governor ever gave to his State’s Supreme Court. And he was right.
What did Chris Christie say?
Chris Christie appeared yesterday in a town-hall-style meeting in Toms River, New Jersey. Among other things, he discussed a New Jersey Supreme Court that has taken too much on itself.
No matter what we pass, the Supreme Court…believes that they are a superior branch of government, not a co-equal branch.
The governor was talking about the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Abbott v. Burke XXI. In that ruling, the Supreme Court said that Christie was not giving enough money to the State’s schools. But this isn’t a matter of students everywhere going without good textbooks. This is about special privileges to 31 arbitrarily chosen districts, called the “Abbott Districts” after Raymond Abbott, the original plaintiff.
What they did a couple of weeks ago, was that they passed an appropriations bill!…Well, I’ve read the Constitution. It is only the legislature that pass an appropriations bill, with the agreement of the governor!
Chris Christie singled out Justice Barry T. Albin for special criticism. Albin, at one point during oral argument, said:
Why don’t you raise the millionaires’ tax, and use the money from the millionaires’ tax to spend on school funding?
In reply, the angry Christie said,
If Justice Albin is going to do that, why don’t we all just go home?
He continued by saying that government in New Jersey had become a “dictatorship [of] the Supreme Court.”
Well, somebody had to say it!
And it might as well have been Chris Christie. When he took office last year, he warned the people that he would have to change the Supreme Court to make lasting reforms. And he was right. He’s right about what he said yesterday, too. But he could have predicted this outcome.
Any Constitution, of the United States or of any State, now means whatever the particular Supreme Court says it means, any time it says it. Chris Christie said that this sort of thing had been going on for twenty years. Actually, it’s been going on for at least thirty-five years. In Robinson v. Cahill (1976), the Supreme Court actually shut down all the schools in the State until the legislature enacted an income tax! And that is exactly why New Jersey has an income tax.
In his dissent in that case, Justice Worrel Mountain warned that the Court had broken new ground, by telling legislatures what to do. Now Chris Christie just said the same.
He won’t satisfy his opponents by saying that. Steve Lonegan, his opponent in the 2009 primary, has said often that if he were governor, he would defy the Supreme Court. In short he would say, as Andrew Jackson might have said.
Barry Albin has made his decision. Now let him enforce it!
Well, even Judge Andrew P. Napolitano, formerly of the Essex Vicinage of the New Jersey Superior Court, wouldn’t expect that of Chris Christie, or any other governor. (He has said so.)
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So what should the people do about it?
Chris Christie made it clear: the Supreme Court of New Jersey is out of control. Supreme Courts in many other States are similarly out of control. Only one thing can bring them back under control: retention elections.
Right now, the State Constitution says that any judge or Justice must serve an initial term of seven years. Then the governor must reappoint him, and the Senate must reconfirm him. But once they do that, the judge or Justice stays in office until his seventieth birthday. And as Christie said, he remains “unelected, and unaccountable to the people.”
Clearly the seven-year “probation” is not enough. Justices and judges should have to stand for a simple stay-or-go vote every seven years. Nothing so crass as a political campaign need take place, for no one would “run” against any given judge. Instead, if the judge failed of retention, the governor would appoint another.
Why such a drastic step?
Because either we make our Supreme Court answerable to the people, or else each State, and likely the country, too, becomes a dictatorship of the Supreme Court, if it isn’t already. If Constitutions mean anything, then judges, and Justices of Supreme Courts, must abide by them. And if they don’t, then the people must bring them to heel. Otherwise any Constitution is “a mere thing of wax” for courts to do what they want with, as Thomas Jefferson said.
Featured image: the United States Supreme Court. Photo: CNAV.
Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.
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