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Christie Nominates Two More New Jersey Top Court Justices

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie nominated two more state Supreme Court justices after Democrats who control the Senate rejected his earlier picks.

The nominations of Superior Court Judge David Bauman, a Republican, and Board of Public Utilities President Robert Hanna, an independent, are a “political compromise,” Christie told reporters. Their confirmations would mean a court with three Republican members, two Democrats and two independents, according to the governor’s office.

“These nominees represent reaching across the aisle on my part,” Christie, 50, a first-term Republican, said today in Trenton. “It’s my hope these nominees receive a swift confirmation process and timely hearings.”

Bauman, 56, who was born in Japan and moved to the U.S. before age three, is the second Asian-American nominated by Christie to the bench. The first, Phillip Kwon, was rejected on March 22 after Senate Democrats questioned a $160,000 payment his family made to settle a U.S. civil lawsuit over cash deposits from their liquor store.

Democrats in May rejected Christie’s nomination of Bruce Harris, citing concern about the nominee’s lack of courtroom experience and his intent to recuse himself from same-sex marriage issues. Harris, a finance attorney and Republican mayor of Chatham, would have been the state’s first openly gay justice and the third black to serve on the court.

Bench Makeup

Hanna, 54, has been president of New Jersey’s utility regulatory agency since December 2011 and oversaw power companies’ response to Hurricane Sandy after 2.7 million customers lost electricity. He is a registered independent who contributed to Christie’s 2009 election campaign, according to the governor.

Christie, who faces re-election next year, said he made the decision to nominate Hanna and Bauman about 10 days ago and notified them on Dec. 7. Both men were unanimously approved by the full Senate for their current positions, the governor said.

The governor said he’s discussed the two candidates with Senate President Stephen Sweeney, and declined to elaborate. He said he hopes to have confirmation hearings by year-end. Sweeney, a West Deptford Democrat, said in a statement that “at this point in time, it would be inappropriate for me to comment” on the nominations.

“I’ve now met all of their stated public requirements,” Christie said of Democrats. “I don’t really know what more they could ask for at this point. Their two main concerns expressed over time have been both partisan balance and diversity. These two nominees respect both of those concerns.”

Court Rulings

Christie, a former U.S. attorney for New Jersey, has criticized the high court for “legislating from the bench” and forcing governors and lawmakers to raise spending to comply with its decisions. Examples he has cited include the Abbott v. Burke school-funding cases and Mount Laurel affordable-housing rulings.

“The judicial branch has no power to pass statutes,” Hanna told reporters today. “It has no power to tax or to appropriate funds. That tremendous power, the power of judicial review, must be exercised wisely.”

Democrats criticized Christie after he denied reappointment to John Wallace, the court’s only black justice, in 2010. That sparked a standoff that lasted a year and delayed hearings on Anne Murray Patterson, Christie’s Republican nominee. Christie and Sweeney later agreed to let Patterson replace Justice Roberto Rivera Soto, who retired in September.

The bench has two vacancies since the departure of Wallace and Justice Virginia Long, who stepped down March 1 after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70. Two lower court judges have been serving as temporary justices.

Current members are Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, a Democrat; Barry Albin, a Democrat; Helen Hoens, a Republican; Anne Patterson, a Republican; and Jaynee Lavecchia, who Christie characterizes as an independent and Democrats say is a Republican.

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