Monday, December 10, 2012
FIVE NOMINATIONS, NO LATINOS: CHRISTIE SHUTS OUT ONE-THIRD OF NJ FROM COURT REPRESENTATION
FIVE NOMINATIONS, NO LATINOS: CHRISTIE SHUTS OUT ONE-THIRD OF NJ FROM COURT REPRESENTATION
For Immediate Release: December 10, 2012
Frank Argote-Freyre, President – 908-670-0552
Christian Estevez, Executive Vice President – 973-418-7012
The Latino Action Network today announced its opposition to Governor Chris Christie's plan to leave the Supreme Court without either an African-American or Latino member for the first time since 1994, and asked the State Senate to reject the nominations.
“New Jersey’s Supreme Court should represent everyone. One third of New Jersey residents are Latinos or African-Americans,” said Frank Argote-Freyre, President of the Latino Action Network. “Yet Governor Christie's nominations would reduce the diversity of the New Jersey Supreme Court for the next decade or more - during which time New Jersey will become a majority-minority state.”
New Jersey, according to the 2010 Census, has the twelfth-highest percentage of people of color of any state, with Latinos, African-Americans, and Asian-Americans making up 40.7 percent of the state's population. Latinos are the largest minority group in New Jersey and accounted for the vast majority of population growth in New Jersey over the last decade.
"With this move, New Jersey would go backwards, not forwards in judicial diversity," Argote-Freyre said. "We urge the Senate to reject these nominations and instead work with Governor Christie to ensure that any one of a number of well qualified Latinos have a place on the Court. Five nominations without one Latino is enough."
The Latino Action Network was part of an alliance of Latino and African-American groups that asked Governor Christie and Senate leadership to respect basic principles for the Supreme Court (included in full below). In addition to diversity, our groups asked for partisan balance: at least three justices representing each political party, as has been the case for the entire history of the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, Gov. Christie's nominations repeat the nominations in the spring where nominations are used to try to gain an unfair partisan advantage.
"If there is any message that came out of the recent Presidential election, it is that diversity matters in America," Argote-Freyre added. "Now is not the time to turn back the clock in New Jersey."
The Latino Action Network is a broad, statewide coalition of Latino organizations devoted to civil rights and political empowerment.
ATTACHMENT: SEPTEMBER 2011 LETTER FROM LATINO AND AFRICAN-AMERICAN ORGANIZATIONS
Association of Black Women Lawyers of New Jersey • Black Issues Convention • Garden State Bar Association • La Causa NJ • Latino Action Network • Latino Coalition • Latino Institute, Inc. • NAACP, New Jersey State Conference
September 12, 2011
Dear Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Majority Leader Barbara Buono, Minority LeaderThomas Kean, Chair Nicholas Scutari, Vice-Chair John Girgenti, and Honorable Members of the Judiciary Committee:
As New Jersey's State Supreme Court convenes for its 2011-12 court year, we write to remind you that the court is respected for both its diversity and its independence. Indeed, some have noted that the court’s diversity, which includes both ethnic diversity and diversity of thought, contributes inextricably to the court’s national reputation for judicial independence. It should be no surprise, therefore, that we, the undersigned, express our concern with the recent confirmation of of Anne Patterson without demanding an unequivocal, public statement from Governor Chris Christie that he will reflect the court’s history of diversity and judicial independence in each of his future nominations. Moreover, it is our view that these twin hallmarks of justice – diversity and independence -- must be reflected not only in the Governor’s appointments to the State Supreme Court, but also in his appointments to our State’s appellate, superior and municipal courts.
We urge you, as the branch of government with the Constitutional duty to review court nominations, to only advance any further candidate to our State’s highest court if the Governor nominates justices for the two more seats on the Court becoming vacant over the next six months that maintain the diversity and independence of the Court.
With respect to ethnic diversity, the clarion call of the 2010 Census data could not be clearer: New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the country. Latinos, African-Americans and Asians comprise in excess of 40% New Jersey's population and there is little question that our state, like our country, will become decidedly more diverse over the next decade. Notwithstanding this fact, as a result of the Governor’s nomination of Anne Patterson to fill the vacancy created by Justice Rivera-Soto’s resignation, the State Supreme Court convening today has not a single justice of color, for the first time in decades. Significantly, of the 11 other states with population demographics similar to New Jersey’s, only one has a State Supreme Court without any minority jurists: Arizona. With Arizona’s notorious reputation for racial and ethnic division, we need leadership that refuses to emulate this model. Governor Christie’s promise to the citizens of New Jersey was to move this state forward. His policies not only belie his promises, but they also threaten to move our State’s judicial system backwards.
With respect to judicial independence, the intent of the framers of our State Constitution is clear. The framers intended to hardwire judicial independence in the judicial nomination process. In response to rampant corruption in the courts that made the reputation of New Jersey’s judiciary among the worst in the nation, the framers put into place two basic mechanisms to safeguard the integrity of the courts: first, appointment of judges by the Governor for a seven-year term with reappointment unless the judge had acted unethically; and second, partisan balance on the Court — no matter who serves as Governor, court appointments would ensure representation of both parties.
Admirably, the foregoing principles have led governors to respect the independence of the Court across party lines — reflected in moments such as Governor Thomas Kean's reappointment of Chief Justice Robert Wilentz and Governor Jon Corzine's appointment of Justice Helen Hoens. Indeed, it is a testament to New Jersey’s independent judiciary that the two dissenting justices in the recent Abbott decision were both Republican justices appointed by Democratic governors.
Governor Christie’s actions and statements to date give cause for alarm as to his willingness to maintain traditional appointment principles and brazenly ignore the intent of the framers of our State Constitution. While we applaud Senate President Sweeney for standing up for the citizens of New Jersey in leaving Justice Wallace's seat vacant, we now ask the Senate to make its commitment to diverse and independent courts clear. The Governor's actions have made it clear that he does not support the court’s history of judicial independence, which he mis-characterizes as “judicial activism.” Indeed, the Governor has stated that he intends to make appointments that reflect his own partisan ideology. This is precisely the result that the framers of our State Constitution not only wanted to avoid, but put forth measures to avoid.
If Governor Christie remains unwilling to embrace his constitutional duty to respect the intent of the framers, as Constitutional officers, your duty is to stand up for that which is fair. We ask that you lead where the Governor will not, and demand that he publically articulate his respect for the intent of the framers. We ask the Senate not to move forward with any further Supreme Court nomination unless it is part of a package of nominees with the Governor that addresses all of these issues. This package should result in a continued balance between political backgrounds, continue the tradition of representation of each of the state’s two largest groups of people of color, and promise judges that if they do their job ethically they will not face a partisan review of their decisions.
Otherwise, the fair and impartial judiciary, which has served New Jersey well for over 60 years, will be eradicated. While we have not agreed with every decision rendered by the judiciary, we have never doubted either its integrity or its fundamental bent toward fairness and justice.
We ask that you to act immediately to ensure the continued trust of the citizens of New Jersey in our State’s judiciary. We thank you for your leadership and your support for an independent and representative judiciary, and we look forward to working with you throughout the judicial nomination process.
Association of Black Women Lawyers of New Jersey
Black Issues Convention
Garden State Bar Association
La Causa NJ
Latino Action Network
Latino Institute, Inc.
NAACP, New Jersey State Conference