Gov. Chris Christie Monday moved to fill two state Supreme Court seats, nominating Board of Public Utilities President Robert M. Hanna and Monmouth County Superior Court Judge David Bauman.
The move comes after Christie's first two nominees for the posts – former First Assistant Attorney General Phillip Kwon and attorney and Chatham Mayor Bruce Harris – were rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year.
Christie said Bauman and Hanna deserve to win confirmation.
"First and foremost, most importantly, they are extraordinarily well qualified to serve on the court," Christie said.
However, Christie said the two were also chosen in part because they met Senate Democrats' calls for diversity on the court.
Bauman, a 56-year-old Republican, was born inJapanand would be the first Japanese-American to serve on the court.
Hanna, a 54-year-old independent, worked for Christie at the U.S. Attorney's Office and as head of the Division of Law in the Attorney General's Office before being named to run the BPU a year ago.
"These two nominees represent a political compromise on my part; a reaching out across the aisle to the Democrats in an attempt to get our court fully staffed in the way our constitution envisioned," Christie said.
The governor said he kept in touch with Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) at every step of his decision-making process and informed him of his decision prior to making Monday's announcement. However, Christie said he made no deal with Sweeney regarding confirmation of the pair.
Sweeney didn't say much this afternoon: "The governor has made his nominations, as is his right. At this point in time, however, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further."
In addition to the Democrats' call for demographic diversity on the court, the party also sparred with Christie over the partisan make-up of the court.
By Christie's count, if Hanna and Bauman are confirmed, the court would have three Republicans, two Democrats and two independents. Christie noted some Democrats argue Associate Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, an unaffiliated voter, is essentially a Republican because she worked for Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and has donated to Republican candidates. By choosing one Republican and one independent, Christie hopes to avoid the charge that he's stacking the court with Republicans.
The governor said while he disagrees with Democrats' categorization of LaVecchia, "getting the court fully staffed is more important than continuing to argue over that issue," he said.
Bauman, who was nominated to the bench by former Gov. Jon Corzine, was unanimously approved by the Senate in 2008. In his remarks, Bauman said he has great respect for both the honor and obligation of serving on the Supreme Court.
"Our courts must serve the people with independence and integrity and interpret our laws fairly, impartially and faithfully to protect the rights guaranteed to all under our constitution," he said.
Hanna won unanimous Senate approval a year ago for the BPU post. He noted that the role of the courts differs from that of the executive and legislative branches.
"Yet the power of the judiciary to decide what theNew Jerseyconstitution means and whether legislative and executive enactments and actions comport with that constitution should not be underestimated," he said. "That tremendous power – the power of judicial review – must be exercised wisely."
Christie said he only met Bauman through the interview process, a process by which he saw at least two dozen resumes.
Christie has known Hanna for a decade, and said Hanna is independent-minded.
Christie said he spoke to a former U.S. Attorney's Office colleague of his and Hanna's Monday morning, "who told me there was no one in his experience who relished disagreeing with me more than Bob Hanna. He has kept that personality streak through the last three years."
Whether or not Democrats will disagree with Christie remains to be seen. The governor said he expects quick action.
"It is my hope that these nominees receive a swift confirmation process with timely hearings and an up or down vote by the state Senate," Christie said.