Christie Pulls N.J. Top Court Pick in Feud With Democrats

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie pulled one of his picks for the state Supreme Court amid a yearlong stalemate with Democrats, and instead nominated him for a lower judgeship.

In an e-mail to the secretary of the state Senate yesterday, Christie said he intends to nominate Robert Hanna to a Superior Court position. Hanna, 55, a registered independent, was one of two people nominated by Christie in December 2012 who have yet to receive a confirmation hearing in the Senate.

Christie, a 51-year-old Republican, won a second term in November. During his first term, Democrats who control the legislature blocked Christie’s efforts to reshape the high court. The governor has accused justices of “legislating from the bench” on issues affecting state spending, including decisions on school funding and affordable housing.

Democrats criticized Christie, a former U.S. attorney, after he denied reappointment in 2010 to John Wallace, the court’s only black justice. That sparked a standoff that lasted a year and delayed hearings on Christie nominee Anne Murray Patterson, a Republican. Christie and Senate President Stephen Sweeney later agreed to let Patterson replace Justice Roberto Rivera Soto, who retired in September 2011.

Court Makeup

The governor in December 2012 also nominated David Bauman, a Republican who would be the first Asian-American justice on the seven-member court. The Senate hasn’t scheduled hearings to consider his nomination. Lawmakers earlier in 2012 rejected two other Christie nominees to the bench.

The court is operating with five permanent members; two Democrats, two Republicans and an independent, according to the state judiciary. Sweeney and other Democrats have said Christie is attempting to stack the court with Republicans, which would threaten its independence from politics.

Sweeney said in a telephone interview today that the nomination of Hanna to the Superior Court could be considered as soon as Jan. 9 and that he doesn’t expect as much opposition as with the high court.

“Our issue has always been about balance on the court,” Sweeney said. “We never said anything bad about Bob Hanna. As long as all the necessary sign-offs are done, I would expect Mr. Hanna to get a hearing.”

Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, declined to comment on Hanna’s nomination beyond the notice sent to lawmakers. A copy of the e-mail was obtained by Bloomberg News.

A phone message left at a Madison, New Jersey, home number listed for Hanna wasn’t immediately returned. State offices are closed today due to a snowstorm.

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