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Steve Sweeney Responds To Governor Christie’s Criticism [AUDIO]

Less than 24 hours after saying he had no response to Governor Chris Christie’s harsh criticism of him, State Senate President Steve Sweeney had plenty to say.

Governor Chris Christie, Senate President Steve Sweeney, Speaker Sheila Oliver
Governor Chris Christie, Senate President Steve Sweeney, Speaker Sheila Oliver (Governor’s Office/Tim Larsen)

Christie and Sweeney have been allies for the past three years, but the Governor is blasting the Senate President and accusing him of road-blocking confirmation hearings for two State Supreme Court nominees. Sweeney is less than thrilled to be Christie’s latest target.

Late last year, Christie nominated Bob Hanna, President of the Board of Public Utilities, and Judge David Bauman of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Monmouth County for the positions of Associate Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court.

The nominees need to be confirmed by the State Senate, but the Judiciary Committee chairman hasn’t even scheduled a hearing to see if they can get over the first hurdle.

Christie said Tuesday that he has lost all patience and he’s bashed Sweeney.

“There’s only one person to blame for why this hasn’t happened and that’s the Senate President,” claims Christie. “He has been the obstructionist-in-chief. If Steve wants to get this done, he can stand up tomorrow and tell (Senate Judiciary Committee chairman) Nick Scutari that he wants hearings to be done on X date and they would be done. That’s the way it works in the Senate. The Senate President is a dictator on issues like this.”

Christie went on to say, “I am out of patience on this and the Senate President is responsible. It is his fault. It is his decision and the fact that he hasn’t done it yet is an insult to the people of this state. He should stop taking his salary if he’s not going to do his job.”

Sweeney’s spokesman said the Senate President was not commenting. Yesterday, Sweeney broke his silence.

Asked to respond to Christie’s accusation that he’s not doing his job, Sweeney asked, “How can he say something like that about me with all of the things I’ve accomplished here in the State of New Jersey? All of the reforms (public worker pension and health benefits) all of the efforts that we put forward (the 2% cap on property tax hike) and other reforms. Almost every one of those bills has my name on it.”

Hannah and Bauman were confirmed by the Senate for the jobs they currently hold and Christie can’t understand why they don’t deserve a confirmation hearing now. He wants to hear Sweeney’s excuse for that.

Sweeney says, “When it’s time we’ll make a decision. It’s not time to make a decision yet. I’m not going to rush the process. It’s the Supreme Court. We will do the right thing for the State of New Jersey. We’re doing our due diligence. I’m not going to put myself in a box and say I’m doing it tomorrow and then we find something else that we’ve got to look into so when the time is right we’ll do it.”

In a crushing defeat for Christie in March 2012, the prosecutor he nominated to be the first Asian on the State Supreme Court was rejected by the Senate Judiciary panel yesterday after six hours of heated and grueling questioning, one lunch break and a long closed-door Q&A. By a 7-6 margin Phil Kwon was shot down making him the first State Supreme Court nominee in modern history to be rejected.

Two months later, the Judiciary Committee rejected Christie’s nomination of Bruce Harris to the State Supreme Court. Harris could have been the third African-American and first openly gay person to serve of the High Court.

Most people in New Jersey probably can’t name a single sitting State Supreme Court justice so many are probably wondering why they should even care when Christie’s nominees are rejected or stonewalled. Fairleigh Dickinson University political science professor Peter Woolley says the high court impacts every New Jerseyan’s life.

“You may think that the justices are just anonymous people who make legal decisions, but in fact they make decisions about your life, how much money you are going to pay,” explains Woolley. “You have to think of the court as every bit as powerful and as decisive as the legislature and the Governor……Everything that the legislature does, everything that the Governor does is likely to be filtered in some way through the court either sooner or later.”

On the campaign trail Christie said he wanted to reshape the Supreme Court. He often railed against school funding decisions that still force the state to spend an inordinate amount of property tax dollars on just the 31 poorest schools in New Jersey.

Woolley says, “There’s very little you can do about changing the way schools are funded in New Jersey and changing the way your property taxes operate without going through the Supreme Court.”

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