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NJ Supreme Court Nominees To Get March 22 Confirmation Hearings [AUDIO]

Governor's Office

Townsquare Media has learned exclusively today that 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 reaches mandatory retirement tomorrow.

“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.

Earlier this month, Christie was asked if there would be a vacancy on the Supreme Court. He said, “Sounds like it, sounds like it. I’ve made the Senate President aware of the fact that Justice Long has mandatory retirement on March 1st. He’s told me they’ll have hearings in March. I nominated these folks in mid-January to avoid any vacancy issue, but obviously the Senate has decided they need longer time to deliberate before hearings.”

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 as of March 1. The current court, made up of five women and two men, all of whom are white. 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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