New Jersey Democrats and Republicans clashed over the third branch of government Thursday (March 22), as the Democrats who control the legislature defeated one of Republican Governor Chris Christie's nominees for the state's highest court.
By a 7-6 vote, a state Senate panel voted against confirming Phillip Kwon to the state Supreme Court. The senators raised questions about taxes owed by Kwon's family business and about Christie's efforts to put more conservative judges on the high court. But the rare rejection had broader implications.
Kwon would have been the state's first Asian-American justice. The governor nominated him and Bruce Harris, a mayor who could become the third African-American on the high court and the first justice to be openly gay.The Harris nomination remains to be voted on.
“The choices were seen as historic and politically inspired because they would have added to the bench's diversity, making the nominees more difficult for Democrats to oppose,” wrote The Wall Street Journal. “But they also would have moved the court rightward, replacing two justices who were Democrats.”
The Star-Ledger described the rejection as Christie's “biggest setback since coming to Trenton.”
“It was the first time in modern history,” the paper wrote, “lawmakers have turned down a governor's choice for the state's highest court.”
The New York Times explained that if both Kwon and Harris had been confirmed, and Kwon were counted as a Republican, “that would give the Republicans four members of the bench to two registered Democrats, as well as a sitting independent, Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, whom Democrats have sought to paint as a Republican.”
Kwon had worked with Christie in the U.S. attorney's office and is now the second-in-command at the state attorney general's office.