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Chris Christie Says NJ Dems Have Everything On Supreme Court Nominees

Governor Chris Christie
Governor's Office/Tim Larsen

A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing date has been set for State Supreme Court nominees Phillip Kwon and Bruce Harris.Senate President Steve Sweeney explains, “We’re looking at the 22nd (of March) to hold hearings as long as they (Kwon and Harris) continue to provide the information that we’re requesting.”

Governor Chris Christie nominated Harris and Kwon in late January and called for swift hearings. One seat on the high court is already vacant and Justice Virginia Long reached mandatory retirement yesterday.

Yesterday, Christie was asked about the information Democrats are requesting. He said, “There’s nothing that they’ve asked for that we haven’t given them. If fact, we’ve given them more than they asked for because they’ve made supplemental requests since the original questionnaire.”

Democrats began asking for Kwon’s tax returns for his family’s liquor store after it was learned his mother and his wife paid a settlement to the federal government after being accused of making illegal bank deposits. There was no admission of guilt.

Christie says, “They didn’t ask for tax returns in the questionnaire and we’ve given them everything they asked for in the questionnaire so I’m not giving them anything else. I’ve given them everything they’ve asked for.”

The Governor remains livid that the questionnaires filled out by Kown and Harris were leaked to the press. That violates Senate regulations and Christie calls the leaks potentially criminal. He says, “I have to tell you, I’ve got real concerns about how much further we go because of the leaking of this information that they’ve done.”

“No one wants to play any games here,” explains Sweeney. “We want to get this moving. These are very important positions.”

On January 23, Christie nominated Harris, the recently elected Mayor of Chatham and a lawyer with over 20 years of legal experience and Kwon, a First Assistant Attorney General in the Department of Law and Public Safety and former Deputy Chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division.

If confirmed, Harris will become the third African-American to serve on the State Supreme Court and the first openly gay member of the Court and Kwon will become the first Asian-American to serve on the Supreme Court and the first immigrant to serve since the 1947 Constitution created the Court. Justice Anne Paterson, nominated by Governor Christie and confirmed, created the first female majority in the history of the Supreme Court, one of only five in the nation.

When he announced his nominees, Christie said, “Bruce and Phil are each accomplished and talented individuals with skilled legal minds who are highly respected in the legal community. Just as importantly, each of them has demonstrated a remarkable commitment to serving their state and communities. Additionally, not only do their different backgrounds and career paths bring distinctive and important perspectives to the Supreme Court, Bruce and Phil also capture our state’s diversity in a way never before seen in the history of the Court.”

Six openly gay justices sit on state Supreme Courts nationwide. Garden State Equality chairman Steven Goldstein praised the choice. The gay rights leader acknowledged he was very surprised by the announcement but said the Christie administration has always treated gay community leaders with “warmth and responsiveness.”

Christie has two vacancies to fill on the court. The Governor created a firestorm when he decided not to re-nominate the court’s only black member, Justice John Wallace, in 2010. The nominations need confirmation from the Democrat-controlled Senate.

“As with all nominees, the process must still run its course,” said Sweeney just after the nominations. “While we undergo that process, it is vital that we ensure the Court remain as philosophically independent as possible. I look forward to a full and proper vetting of these nominees and to learning of how they view their role on the Court.”

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