A source close to the Christie Administration’s selection process says Robert M. Hanna, president of the Board of Public Utilities (BPU), is in the mix for one of two vacant state Supreme Court seats.
Hanna has served as President of the BPU since 2011.
Prior to his 2011 appointment to the BPU, Hanna served as Director of the Division of Law within the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety, according to the BPU website. As director, he oversaw a division totaling more than 500 attorneys. As part of his role, Hanna was charged with offering legal advice on Christie administration initiatives and defending them in court when warranted.
Like many in Christie’s cabinet, Hanna is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney having worked in both the civil and fraud divisions.
Acknowledging Christie’s challenge to delicately balance his Supreme Court picks to win the approval of the opposing party, sources said Hanna’s nomination is not a done deal.
In ongoing negotiations with the Republican governor, Democrats have put emphasis on the court’s racial composition, partisan balance and judicial qualifications. Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) was especially alarmed by the governor’s decision not to reappoint Justice John Wallace, an African-American and registered Democrat.
An unaffiliated voter, Hanna donated $500 to Gov. Chris Christie in 2009, and $300 to Christie’s inaugural.
Democrats have consistently said they want Christie to roll out his two Supreme Court picks as a duo, and Hanna’s ultimate selection by the governor may hinge on the identity – and political persuasion – of the other nominee.
Christie’s last two Supreme Court nominees – Phil Kwon and Bruce Harris – failed to pass muster with the Democratic-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, whose majority party members were unconvinced of Kwon’s party affiliation change from Republican to independent and unimpressed by Harris’s lack of courtroom experience.
Sources confirm that Superior Court Judge Lee Soloman – a former Republican assemblyman who preceded Hanna at the BPU and left for a judgeship – is another short list candidate for the Supreme Court, as first reported by the Star-Ledger.