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Garden State Coalition of Schools
Elisabeth Ginsburg, Executive Director
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5-31-12 pm Senate Judiciary votes down Supreme Court Nominee...School Report Cards Released by Dept of Education
Politickernj-State Street Wire Alert - Judiciary Committee rejects Harris for Supreme Court

Star Ledger - Senate committee rejects Christie N.J. Supreme Court nominee Bruce Harris

The Record - N.J. releases report cards on state's school districts… “This marks the last round of cards under the current format: Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf said a new version next year will have more precise, useful data…”

Politickernj-State Street Wire Alert - Judiciary Committee rejects Harris for Supreme Court

TRENTON 3:01 pm – The Senate Judiciary Committee rejected Bruce Harris’ state Supreme Court nomination 7-6, with only Democrat Brian Stack crossing the aisle to vote with the Republicans.

Voting with Stack in Harris’ favor were Republican Sens. Joe Kyrillos, Gerald Cardinale, Jennifer Beck, Kevin O’Toole and Christopher Bateman.

But aligned against him were Democratic Sens. Nicholas Scutari, Nia Gill, Loretta Weinberg, Nellie Pou, Raymond Lesniak, Paul Sarlo and Linda Greenstein.

The breakdown was identical to the one that scuttled the high court nomination of Phil Kwon earlier this year.

Stack told Harris: “I believe you would be a great justice. You do have my vote. I vote yes.”

But Sarlo said he could not get past the lack of courtroom experience, and he told Harris he took no joy in voting no.


Star Ledger - Senate committee rejects Christie N.J. Supreme Court nominee Bruce Harris

Published: Thursday, May 31, 2012, 3:12 PM Updated: Thursday, May 31, 2012, 4:53 PM

By MaryAnn Spoto/The Star-LedgerThe Star-Ledger
TRENTON — Dealing Gov. Chris Christie his second bitter defeat over a high-ranking judicial appointment, the Senate Judiciary Committee today rejected the nomination of Mayor Bruce Harris of Chatham Borough to the state Supreme Court.

The Democrat-controlled committee voted 7 to 6 to turn away the 61-year-old Harris, the first openly gay and third African-American to be nominated to the state's highest court. State Sen. Brian Stack (D-Hudson), an ally of the Republican governor, was the only Democrat to vote in support of the nomination.

Christie's office declined to issue an immediate comment.

While Democrats hammered away at Harris for his lack of courtroom experience and his stated intention to recuse himself on same-sex marriage issues, Republicans fiercely came to his aid. They said his work as a finance attorney was as complex as any cases Supreme Court justices handle, and they praised him as a man who understands the dignity and honor the position requires.

But in the end, the Republicans were not able to sway enough Democrats to vote to release the nomination of Harris, a finance attorney for 20 years, to the full Senate. There are two vacancies on the seven-member court.

With a smile on his face, Harris calmly answered Democrats’ questions throughout more than four hours of questioning. But he clearly felt more comfortable answering queries from Republican committee members, and he often expanded on his responses.

“I want to be a justice that will treat each case with the seriousness it deserves,” he told the committee members. “I want to be a justice who will treat the litigants who appear before me with respect.”

On the recusal issue, Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-Somerset) came to Harris’ defense, saying a court ruling requires judges to recuse themselves on some matters.

But when Harris said he wasn’t aware of the ruling, Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex) said she was even more troubled.

“That’s why your recusal is more disturbing — because you’re not a judge and you have already actively taken yourself out of the process,” Gill said. “Is your recusal political?”

Harris calmly replied, “My decision to recuse myself on same-sex marriage is no political calculus.”

He said that although he could be impartial in deciding such cases, he didn’t want to give the public the opportunity to question that impartiality because he had advocated for same-sex marriage in 2009.

“I want you to know, it was my decision," Harris said. "No one made me decide it.”

Though not in the Statehouse hearing room, Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, said he was in Trenton monitoring the testimony remotely.

"As someone who has supported Bruce Harris" nomination to the state Supreme Court, I am terribly disappointed with his answers on his recusal," Goldstein said. "Frankly, I found them nonsensical."

He added: "Mayor Harris said flat-out he could rule on same-sex marriage in an impartial manner. So why is he recusing himself? I heard that answer and I was mystified."

For his part, Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Essex) said he was pleased Harris was so concerned about the appearance of impartiality on the bench to the public.

 “That’s what we want from our judges,” O'Toole said.

State Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth), a last-minute substitution for Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Warren), said Harris’ legal background — not coming from the “political elite” in Trenton — was refreshing rather than a handicap.

Beck noted that in the past 35 years, eight justices were previous governor’s counsel, six had been attorneys general or had worked in that office, five were cabinet members and seven came from the lower courts.

“I think there’s some important value in that,” Beck said.

Harris’ defeat is the second setback for Christie in the past several months. The Democrat-controlled committee rejected Christie’s nomination of First Assistant State Attorney General Phillip Kwon in March after six hours of intense questioning, primarily because of questions over his family’s finances and his political affiliation.

During a quick break from the hearing, O'Toole summed up Harris' testimony in one word: "excellent."

"He's very straightforward, he's very humble, he's very honest about what he knows," O'Toole said. " He's talking about his field of law — a very specialized field. "

O'Toole said he was troubled by the Democrats' focus on Harris' lack of court room experience.

"Where does it say in the constitution he has to be a litigator?" he asked.

For part of the hearing, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), stood to the side in the hearing room, amicably talking to Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union), who introduced Harris.

Sweeney said he was there to observe the proceedings, just as he had when other important legislative matters have come up.

"I believe as leader of the Senate, you should listen to all sides," he said.

When asked to comment on the political significance of the day, and what effect it would have on his relationship with the governor, he played down its significance.

"There are a lot of big days," Sweeney said. "There are a lot to come. This is just one day."

Star-Ledger staff writer Susan K. Livio contributed to this report.


The Record - N.J. releases report cards on state's school districts “This marks the last round of cards under the current format: Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf said a new version next year will have more precise, useful data…


*         Check out the New Jersey report card for your district

New Jersey officials released the annual school report cards for the 2010-2011 school year today, with data on per pupil costs, test scores, graduation rates and other indicators for each public school.

Parents, taxpayers and realtors scrutinize report cards to judge their local school systems. This marks the last round of cards under the current format: Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf said a new version next year will have more precise, useful data on students’ academic growth year to year (rather than just passing rates on state tests), absenteeism and college matriculation, among other items. The new cards will compare schools to schools with similar demographics, rather than to other districts.

Cerf said he wants to lift burdensome red tape from successful schools and bear down on those struggling in the bottom 5 percent; state-supervised interventions might include removing principals, changing curriculums and even closure.

“We are entering a new age of school accountability in New Jersey, one that frees high-performing schools from state interference and defines a stronger investment from the state to turn around pockets of persistent academic failure,” Cerf said in a release. “There is a moral imperative for the state to take a stronger role in persistently failing schools and to work collaboratively with communities and districts to give all students a fair chance.”

The cards usually come in February. State officials said the late release was due in part due to a federally mandated change in the way graduation rates are calculated. The new method, which seeks a more honest accounting, lowered graduation rates statewide to 83 percent last year, down from 95 percent in 2010.

Email: brody@northjersey.com

Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608