New Jersey Senate Demands Resignation of Only Latino Supreme Court Judge

The New Jersey Senate passed a resolution demanding the resignation of a Latino state Supreme Court justice who abstained on cases as a form of protest.

Passing 21 to 3, the resolution said: “It is the sense of the Senate that the actions of Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto are prejudicial to the administration of justice and constitute a serious violation of the public trust.”

It went on to say that Rivera-Soto’s decision to, in essence, stage a strike “may constitute grounds for impeachment for misdemeanor committed during his continuance in office.”

”In the event the General Assembly does not proceed with impeachment, Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto should resign as Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court.”

Toward the end of last year, Rivera-Soto – New Jersey’s first and only Hispanic on the highest court -- announced that he would refrain from rendering decisions because he opposed the presence of a temporary judge on the bench. The temporary judge was assigned after Gov. Chris Christie – breaking with precedent – refused to reappoint Justice John Wallace Jr.

After declaring that he was going on strike to protest Judge Edwin Stern, the temporary justice, Rivera-Soto softened his position. Rivera-Soto said that he would render decisions on cases where Stern would not sway the final decision.

Rivera-Soto, the most conservative justice on the bench, also said he would not seek re-appointment when it comes up later this year.

But that did not assuage some of the state legislators, who called for Rivera-Soto to step down immediately.

Assembly Democratic Spokesman Tom Hester Jr. told the Star Ledger: “The Assembly remains hopeful the justice will resign, but has no plan for impeachment proceedings."

The Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey recently released a statement criticizing Rivera-Soto for his initial decision to abstain from participating in cases. But the group also objected to the push by legislators for the justice to resign, as well as calls for his impeachment.

Rutgers Law Professor Robert Williams said that Rivera-Soto’s original concerns about the temporary appointment of Stern were legitimate. But Williams said that after a majority of the justices on the state Supreme Court decided that the chief justice was acting constitutionally when he appointed Stern, the issue should have been considered resolved.

“Up to that point, Justice Rivera-Soto had a valid legal argument,” Williams said. “But once four justices, a majority, ruled on the matter, that became the authority -- constitutional law in New Jersey. It’s not debatable [any longer].”

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