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1-24-12 Supreme Court Justices Nominated by Governor Christie
Press of Atlantic City-Associated Press - Christie nominates gay black man, Asian to New Jersey Supreme Court seats

Asbury Park Press - Gay rights takes on new urgency

The Record - Stile: Christie stakes out a spot in the center

Press of Atlantic City-Associated Press - Christie nominates gay black man, Asian to New Jersey Supreme Court seats

Posted: Monday, January 23, 2012 7:01 pmBy ANGELA DELLI SANTI and BETH DeFALCO Associated PresspressofAtlanticCity.com | 0 comments

TRENTON - Gov. Chris Christie moved to diversify the state's all-white Supreme Court on Monday with two firsts: the nominations of an openly gay man and a Korean-born prosecutor to fill two vacancies.

If confirmed, Bruce A. Harris, who is black, would become New Jersey's first openly gay justice, and Phillip H. Kwon would become its first Asian representative and the first justice born outside the United States.

"I felt strongly about making sure the court have diversity, but first and foremost that the court have quality justices who make sure they take the court in a direction that is a responsible one for the future of our state and its people," Christie said at a news conference attended by the nominees and their families.

The Republican governor said he has "extreme confidence" in the records and intellect of his nominees, neither of whom has been a judge.

The nominations, which require Senate confirmation, came the day before a state Senate panel is to consider a bill allowing gay couples to marry. The measure is being pushed by Democrats who control the Legislature.

Harris, 61, is the Republican mayor of Chatham Borough in Morris County, a post Christie said Harris would give up if confirmed. He would be the third African-American to be seated on the court. His partner of 32 years, Marc Boisclair, attended the announcement. Six openly gay justices sit on state Supreme Courts nationwide.

Kwon, 44, works in the Attorney General's Office and lives in Closter, Bergen County. He is not officially affiliated with either political party. His wife and 5-year-old son were also there.

The gay-marriage bill was defeated two years ago, but the Democratic Senate president, who did not vote then, has had a change of heart and is now sponsoring the legislation, bringing several votes with him. Christie, who does not support gay marriage, has said he would look at the bill if it reaches his desk.

A parallel lawsuit filed by several same-sex couples and their children claim the state's civil unions law - which confers the benefits of marriage but not the title - is unjust. That case is likely to be decided by the Supreme Court.

Christie, a Catholic, refused to discuss the gay-marriage bill Monday, but said he would address it "when and if it shows some momentum" in the Legislature.

"I'm not someone who changes position with the grace of a ballerina," he said, "so I wouldn't be all atwitter in expectation."

Christie, who has long been critical of a high court he sees as too liberal, said he did not ask his nominees their views about specific cases. He said the nominees would not speak publicly before appearing in front of the Senate Judiciary panel.

The chairman of that committee, Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, Somerset, Middlesex, said the governor made politically savvy choices.

"They were very interesting picks in terms of ethnicity of the candidates," Scutari said. "It's clear he's trying to box in Democrats. He's a smart, tactical politician, I'll give him that."

Scutari said he knew little about either nominee and would not be rushed to vet the candidates.

Steven Goldstein, chairman of gay-rights group Garden State Equality, praised the choice of an openly gay nominee. Goldstein said he was surprised by the announcement, but said the Christie administration always has treated gay community leaders with "warmth and responsiveness."

Harris is in private practice and specializes in public finance and commercial lending, most recently at the law firm of Greenberg Traurig. He is a graduate of Yale Law School, and holds degrees from Amherst College and Boston University Graduate School of Management.

He thanked his partner for "his 32 years of love and support even when I decided to change careers and attend law school - a decision that meant that for three years we were apart for extended periods of time."

Kwon has worked with Christie for a decade; he was deputy chief of the criminal division at the U.S. Attorney's Office while Christie headed it. There he worked on corruption cases, including those of former Newark Mayor Sharpe James and former Hudson County Executive Robert Janiszewski.

He is a 1994 graduate of Rutgers University Law School and received his undergraduate degree in 1989 from Georgetown University.

The current court is made up of five women and two men, all of whom are white.

However, New Jersey has one of the highest percentages of foreign-born residents in the nation, with about one of five residents being born outside the country, according to the U.S. Census Burea. Census figures show 15.8 percent of New Jersey residents identify themselves as at least partially black or African-American; 9 percent say they are at least partially Asian.

Christie created a firestorm when he decided not to renominate the court's only black member, Justice John Wallace, in 2010.

His nominee to replace Wallace, corporate lawyer Anne Patterson, was finally confirmed last year after waiting a year because the Senate refused to consider any high-court nominee as a protest.

Like Patterson, Harris once was at the prestigious Morristown law firm of Riker, Danzig, Scherer, Hyland & Perretti.

Wallace's vacant seat has been filled temporarily by an acting justice. The second vacancy becomes official March 1, when Justice Virginia Long reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a Washington, D.C., group that supports political campaigns of gay candidates, said the first two gay Supreme Court justices were both in Oregon. Rives Kistler was appointed to the bench in 2003 and elected to a full term the next year. Virginia Linder was elected in 2006.

Victory Fund spokesman Dennis Dison said all four others have been sworn in since 2010. They are: Barbara Lenk in Massachusetts, Sabrina McKenna in Hawaii, Monica Marquez in Colorado and Beth Robinson in Vermont. Robinson previously was the leader of a statewide gay-rights group, Vermont Freedom to Marry.

Dison said his group helped Harris last year in his mayoral campaign, and that he is one of the few openly gay black Republican mayors in the nation.


Asbury Park Press - Gay rights takes on new urgency… “The governor last week set an agenda of education, tax and criminal justice reform. Yet on what is really the first full week of action since the Legislature reorganized two weeks ago, circumstances and politics have conspired to give us gay marriage and diversity on the Supreme Court, two issues that Democrats used to criticize the Republican governor…”

7:38 AM, Jan. 24, 2012 |  Column by JOHN SCHOONEJONGEN

Gov. Chris Christie stood between his Supreme Court nominees Monday and talked about his solemn duty as New Jersey’s chief executive to bring superior legal talent to the state’s highest court.

The facts that Phillip Kwon would be the first Asian-American and first immigrant nominated and that Bruce Harris would be the third African-American and the first openly gay man nominated were secondary to Christie’s decision-making process, the governor said.

But with the Senate Judiciary Committee getting ready to consider the marriage equality bill today, it was clear that gay rights had taken on a new urgency and that Christie had just upped the ante.

The governor last week set an agenda of education, tax and criminal justice reform. Yet on what is really the first full week of action since the Legislature reorganized two weeks ago, circumstances and politics have conspired to give us gay marriage and diversity on the Supreme Court, two issues that Democrats used to criticize the Republican governor.

For some, the emphasis is just fine.

Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, has a stake in both issues. He was at once congratulatory and cautious about what this week means to his constituency.

Christie, he said in a statement, made “civil rights history” with the nomination of Harris, the current mayor of Chatham Borough and a registered Republican. But, Goldstein added, he was also aware of the governor’s opposition to gay marriage and said it would be “unwise to read any change here in the governor’s position on marriage equality.”

History was what Senate Democrats were hoping to make with the marriage equality bill. Leaders made sure it was the first bill introduced in both houses of the Legislature and have fast-tracked hearings on it. Today’s committee meeting will take place before a packed house.

“I am sure there will be contentious debate on this issue as it moves through the process but this is a simple idea whose time is long overdue,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney said on the day of Christie’s State of the State address last week.

Meanwhile on Monday, several hundred anti-abortion protesters — in a bid to push their own social agenda — marked the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision with speeches and chants on the Statehouse steps. Christie appeared at the rally last year, making it big news in New Jersey, but this year the rally garnered little attention in part because of Christie’s Supreme Court announcement. Christie, New Jersey Right to Life Executive Director Marie Tasy told her audience, still stands with them in their fight.

But the politics of the day has a slightly different focus this year. Gay rights is a hot issue, and both the Democrats in the Legislature and the governor are trying to make their marks.

The governor made his on Monday. We’ll see what the Democrats can do today.


The Record - Stile: Christie stakes out a spot in the center

Monday, January 23, 2012 Last updated: Tuesday January 24, 2012, 6:48 AM



Governor Christie sent a signal to the self-immolating national Republican Party on Monday: Moderation, in the pursuit of a Republican nomination for president, is a virtue.

Days after Newt Gingrich, the demagogic descendant of 1964 Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater, successfully pandered to anxious-to-intolerant "grass-roots" South Carolina Republican voters, Christie nominated Bruce Harris, an African-American from Chatham, who is openly gay, and Phillip Kwon of Closter, a Korean-American, to the state Supreme Court.

Gingrich's attack on President Obama as a "food stamp president" appealed to voters worried that the world is no longer dominated by white people. Christie, who just two years ago dumped the second African-American justice from the court, suddenly recast himself as a multicultural maverick, crowing over the court's new "historic level of diversity."

Christie outdid the moderate Christie Whitman. He even out did the liberal Jon Corzine on this one.

Big Boy, as President Bush once called him, staked a claim inside the forgotten GOP's Big Tent. He is effectively betting that the long-neglected, moderate center will be a hot investment property four years from now. That's if Newt, fueled by furious conservative activists, routs Mitt Romney this spring, but gets pummeled by President Obama in the fall – a 21st-century sequel to the GOP's Goldwater debacle of 1964.

If that does happen, the GOP will insist on a more pragmatic, tolerant establishment party nominee for 2016. Goldwater was forever branded as a crabbed hard-liner, who famously proclaimed, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and … moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." Christie, who upended Trenton as an unapologetic conservative, is now rebranding himself with a softer, centrist hue.

"What he is communicating today … is that he is a fairly moderate Republican," said Larry Sabato, the University of Virginia political analyst and author who handicaps presidential races. "This will get their attention."

Adds Brigid Harrison, the Montclair State University political scientist: "I think it is an attempt to redress the reputation for conservative intolerance that has infiltrated the Republican primary."

The nominations are also Christie pawns in a short-term game of State House chess. His nominations stole, at least temporarily, some of the thunder from Democrats who are mobilizing a crusade to corner Christie into signing a law legalizing gay marriages in New Jersey. The bill is scheduled for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today.

Christie, who opposes gay marriage, was supposed to be the target for pressure, not a subject of praise. Yet on Monday, Steven Goldstein, the leader of the Garden State Equality, the state's most visible gay advocacy group, was gushing with adulation over Christie. He distributed an email note to members, boasting how Christie called him minutes before announcing the Harris nomination.

"As I told the governor right then and there, you could have picked me off the floor," Goldstein wrote. He also praised Christie for his openness, and his staff's "invaluable" help in shaping the anti-bullying law.

Although Harris' nomination would not derail their drive to win passage and Christie's signature for the gay marriage law, Goldstein said Christie had made "civil rights history." That's one up for Christie: Two weeks ago, Goldstein classified the recently converted Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney as only a possible civil rights hero.

If Christie ultimately chooses not to sign a gay marriage law, the Harris nomination blunts some of the discontent he might face from independents and socially moderate voters in a 2013 general election drive. It also arms him with an important strategic tool in a possible 2016 presidential run.

If he faces a primary challenge, Christie can mollify social conservatives by reminding them that he didn't sign a gay marriage law. In a general election, he can assuage independents by pointing to Harris' nomination as evidence that's not a run-of-the-mill anti-gay Republican. Christie has taken other steps toward the center in recent weeks. His promise to cut taxes by 10 percent was the sound bite that overshadowed his State of the State speech, but Christie also called for restoring the Earned Income Tax Credit, a benefit for low-income residents he cut two years ago, and called for the expansion of drug treatment programs, long championed (without much success) by Democrats.

Christie, in his role as Romney's attack dog, also took sharp aim at Gingrich at Monday's news conference, mocking him as a "influence peddler" for Freddie Mac the government-backed mortgage giant. That led Sarah Palin, a Gingrich supporter, to open fire on Christie on a Fox Business news show Monday night, accusing him of making a "rookie mistake" by feeding Democratic operatives with sound bites to slam Gingrich if he becomes the nominee.

Maybe. But I don't think Christie is going to lose sleep over being attacked by the right-wingers Gingrich and Palin. That's one reason why Romney enlisted him. But their attacks bring Christie's moderate stripes into sharper relief, which may very well be his own plan for 2016.

Email: stile@northjersey.com

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