There was no question in this case. Allowing the chief justice to be deposed for purely political reasons would have put a chilling effect on every judge in this state. More than 180 Superior Court judges don’t have tenure, and we can’t have them worrying that every decision they’re about to make might kill their careers.
Think about it: If Christie dumped Rabner, what judge up for reappointment would want to enforce an open public records request for Bridgegate documents?
Rabner’s reappointment is a big win for democracy. But make no mistake: judicial independence is still threatened in New Jersey. It began when Christie broke tradition by removing state Supreme Court Justice John Wallace for purely political reasons — the first time in modern history that a sitting justice was not granted tenure — and continued when he did the same thing to Justice Helen Hoens.
Even as the governor dismissed the threat to judicial independence yesterday as a “crock,” he made it clear that he still believes he has the right to replace justices for ideological reasons. The state constitution, Christie said, “doesn’t put any restrictions on the governor in terms of how to make that judgement.”
We need to fix that, to prevent Christie or any successor from ever making a move like this again. Christie has criticized our justices for acting with “extraordinary hubris” and “self-interest,” digs that better apply to himself. Thankfully, Sweeney stepped up like a linebacker, to make sure he couldn’t bully our top judge off the bench.
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