Judges aren't puppets

Published on Thursday, February 28, 2013

He’s at it again.

In a stunning display of disregard for the principle of an independent judiciary, Gov. Christie lashed out this week at Sen. Sweeney for not laying out the red carpet for his judicial nominees.  And the reason he’s so upset?  According to Businessweek, “Christie said his two nominees for the state Supreme Court would let him cut spending by changing how education is funded.”

It was a clear reference to the long-established Abbott ruling in New Jersey, which requires the state to live up to its constitutional obligation to provide a thorough and efficient public education to every child.  Gov. Christie has made no secret of his disdain for that ruling, which has helped ensure fair treatment for students in New Jersey’s most economically distressed communities.

He has every right as a politician to disagree.  But it’s up to the Supreme Court to make the rulings.  And Gov. Christie says he needs to get his judges on the court to change the law.

That’s right.  Gov. Christie knows how his nominees would vote, before a case even comes before them.  Before they hear legal arguments or review the facts.

It might not surprise us, or even bother us as much, to hear about politicians who make up their minds based on ideology or preconceived notions.  It’s not good politics, and it might not lead to good outcomes, but it’s not against the rules.

Judges are different.  They are supposed to be driven by facts and by the law, whatever case comes before them.  They are not supposed to decide ahead of time how they will rule.  They certainly aren’t supposed to rule on any matter simply to advance the political objectives of a politician, especially the one who appointed them.

It’s a basic civics lesson the governor apparently still needs to learn, since this is not his first foray into meddling with the judicial branch.  Last year, the Star-Ledger outlined his long history of questionable behavior, noting that “Christie’s tenure has been marked by tirades against individual judges, threats to ignore the court’s most anticipated rulings and the occasional second-guessing of when judges should and should not recuse themselves on specific cases.”

Political debate and disagreement are part of a healthy democracy.  Political interference in the work of our independent courts is decidedly unhealthy. 

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