Progressive groups oppose Supreme Court nominees

A large coalition of liberal groups plans to forward a letter to New Jersey’s state senators urging them to oppose Gov. Chris Christie’s two most recent Supreme Court nominees.

The letter will be signed by more than 50 representatives of progressive groups including several organized labor unions, civil rights groups and community advocates.

The letter specifically opposes the nominees, Robert Hanna and David Bauman on the issue of diversity, saying the state’s two largest minority groups, blacks and Latinos, will not be represented on the Supreme Court.

“Over the next decade as New Jersey’s diversity grows, Governor Christie’s nominations would leave the Supreme Court with 6 white members and just one member of color,” the letter reads. “Neither of the two largest communities of color, Latinos and African-Americans, would be represented at all, despite the high number of qualified jurists and lawyers from both communities. Such a Court would send a clear message to litigants and the community at large: the most important decisions in New Jersey need not be made with people from all backgrounds at the table.”

The letter also takes aim at the partisan make-up of the court, saying Christie would leave the court with just two Democrats and a “purported” independent – Hanna – who, the letter points out, made campaign contributions to Christie.

“Although his predecessors of both parties for many decades did not have problems appointing nominees of both parties to keep the balance, Christie is determined to break this essential safeguard for the first time in history,” the letter to the senators said.

It is signed by representatives of a large portion of the Democratic base including such groups as the Communications Workers of America, the AFL-CIO, Garden State Equality, the NJEA, the NAACP and dozens of others.

According to at least two Democrats spoken to, the letter could spell the end of the nominees because of the wide base of progressive groups represented. 

Justice Jaynee LaVecchia’s registration is an old argument between Christie and Democrats over the partisan make-up of the court.  LaVecchia is unaffiliated in her voter registration and has been since she began voting.  Democrats maintain she is a Republican because she served in two Republican administrations, but Christie says there is nothing to indicate she is a member of the GOP and points to her rulings, which have gone both ways.

“A lot of Democrats serve in my administration,” Christie said at a press conference when asked about LaVecchia.  “Just because I appointed them doesn’t make them Republicans.”

The letter points out that if the nominees are approved, there are no scheduled openings on the court until 2021.

“If both current nominees are confirmed, not only would the court be lopsided towards one party and be composed of a white supermajority for the remainder of Christie’s term, but it would continue to be so for a long time to come,” the letter said.

Democrats speculated that the letter will give cover to the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate President Steve Sweeney to oppose the nominees as they did two earlier potential justices – Bruce Harris and Phil Kwon – submitted by the administration.

Harris is black and Kwon Korean-American, but the two men failed to gain the support of the committee, Harris because of what Democrats said was a lack of qualifications and Kwon because of issues over his voter registration and a legal issue relating to his mother’s business.

Christie has said repeatedly that the nominations of Harris and Kwon fulfilled the Democrats’ requirement for diversity, but the two men were victims of politics.  The governor railed against Democrats after the two men were shot down, saying Democrats had practiced the worst form of character assassination on two good men.

Bauman is the first Japanese-American nominated to the court.

In nominating Hanna and Bauman, Christie stressed compromise, saying Hanna is an independent and Bauman a minority, fulfilling both criteria set forth by Senate President Steve Sweeney.

“Democrats in the Senate have said that they want diversity on the Court as well and so do I,” Christie said at a press conference announcing the two nominees. “So once again now, I’ve made four nominations now for these two seats and three of them have been diversity candidates, two Asian-Americans and an African-American. And so I hope that with putting forward these candidates, the Senate will put aside politics now. We’ve waited long enough to fill these vacancies. It’s time these nominees, who create both diversity and partisan balance, receive the respect they deserve. The Court needs to receive the respect it deserves.”

A spokesman for Sweeney could not be reached for comment.

Attached below are the letter and the list of signatories

"I don't think what he's doing tonight, the method by which he's doing it helps to build a trustful relationship."
—Gov. Chris Christie reacting to President Barack Obama's speech on immigration reform.