If a candidate’s tenure as governor is his road-test for the presidency, Governor Chris Christie just flunked.
As a candidate for governor, Christie talked the talk on judges, vowing to "remake" the New Jersey Supreme Court and to transform the most activist court in the nation into one that operates under the rule of law.
Despite having the opportunity to appoint four of seven justices on the court since taking office, Christie has repeatedly nominated individuals with no discernible judicial philosophy.
Liberal judges can strike down constitutional laws, as liberal judges are doing to state marriage laws all over the country. They can also declare unconstitutional legislation constitutional, as the Supreme Court did with ObamaCare. And while elected representatives must stand for re-election every few years, federal judges sit for life.
Today’s nominee could still be playing the same tricks in 2050 or beyond. That is why the issue of judges matters so much during presidential primaries and caucuses.
Some presidential candidates recognize how important judges are. In 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, for all his difficulties in winning over the conservative wing of the party, created a judicial advisory committee six months before the first primary. But even after five years as governor and four appointments, Christie still can’t seem to tell a judicial home run from a strikeout.
Christie’s initial nominees have been the equivalents of former Supreme Court Justice David Souter: as noncontroversial as possible, but philosophically indistinguishable from their worst colleagues. And now, facing another vacancy, Christie has taken it one step further by re-nominating an unapologetic liberal activist, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner. As Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, Rabner has been the ringleader of an activist circus.
Instead of replacing Rabner after his term expired, though, Christie gave him tenure until 2030 in exchange for confirmation of a Republican candidate, Lee A. Solomon.
Rabner's reappointment effectively derails Christie’s plans to revitalize New Jersey’s economy.
As the Manhattan Institute’s Steven Malanga has written, the New Jersey Supreme Court wrecked the state’s economy by rewriting its laws and by micromanaging everything from state and local budgets to education and housing.
Rabner distorted Supreme Court precedent to ensure the destruction of the state’s marriage laws.
We already know how well that style of activist judging fares in Iowa. I suspect other important primary and caucus states like South Carolina will feel the same way.
Rabner also blocked Christie from reforming the state’s broken affordable housing agency at the heart of the state's fiscal problems. And he isn’t afraid of inventing powers when he wants to: after a standoff between Christie and the state senate left a vacancy on the court, Rabner granted himself the authority to appoint temporary judges whenever convenient. Rabner’s politicized judging makes some of President Obama’s judicial nominees look like Antonin Scalia.
Thanks, Governor Christie.
It’s clear that Christie compromised to shed his “bully” image; less Don Corleone and more Mahatma Gandhi. But this isn’t just changing his image, it’s total surrender.
In exchange for the appointment of a Republican with no discernible judicial philosophy, Christie just gave life tenure to a confirmed liberal activist.
And, if Christie’s defense is that it’s hard doing business with the state senate when he controls the most powerful governor’s office in the country, then he’s clearly not ready to face Harry Reid.
Christie chose to sacrifice the future of New Jersey for a soundbite touting his bipartisanship. That tells us quite a bit about his priorities.
If you’re looking for a candidate who will appoint judges who take the law seriously, keep looking.
If you want a Supreme Court full of Souters and Stevenses, then Christie is the 2016 presidential candidate for you.
Carrie Severino is chief counsel to the Judicial Crisis Network, she is a former law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Clarence Thomas.