As New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie prepares to travel to Iowa on Thursday to test the waters for a Republican presidential race, a conservative watchdog group is ready to call attention to his record of judicial appointments.
Judicial Crisis Network, which promotes the rule of law and “a fair and impartial judiciary,” is beginning a campaign today to highlight Christie’s track record, which it says includes appointing six liberal judges.
For little more than $75,000, the Judicial Crisis Network created two online ads and a website, ChristieBadOnJudges.com.
A 90-second spot highlights what the group calls the “liberal activist” New Jersey Supreme Court. The other ad, at 15 seconds, criticizes Christie for reappointing Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, a “liberal Democrat,” to the bench.
Both ads call on viewers to tell the Republican governor to “fight for judges who respect the rule of law.”
During his one-day jaunt to the Hawkeye State, Christie is scheduled to attend three fundraisers in three cities. The first benefits the Republican Governors Association, of which Christie is chairman; the second is for Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen; and the third is a dinner for Gov. Terry Branstad.
For presidential contenders, Iowa and New Hampshire — the locations of the first caucus and primary, respectively — are crucial stops before officially launching a White House bid. Many observers predict Christie will run in 2016, although this will be his first trip to Iowa since 2011.
Because the next president could nominate as many as three U.S. Supreme Court justices, Christie detractors hope to shine a light on what they say are his disappointing choices for judges.
In an op-ed for Fox News, Carrie Severino, chief counsel for the Judicial Crisis Network, goes after Christie for his record. She writes:
If you’re looking for a candidate who will appoint judges who take the law seriously, keep looking. If you want a Supreme Court full of [David] Souters and [John Paul] Stevenses, then Christie is the 2016 presidential candidate for you.
Other conservative organizations also have faulted the outspoken governor for his picks for the bench, most notably Rabner’s reappointment. Rabner was first appointed to the New Jersey Supreme Court by Gov. John Corzine, a Democrat, in 2007. He likely will serve as chief justice until 2030, when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Rabner played an instrumental role in the case that ultimately permitted same-sex marriage in the Garden State. He also blocked Christie from abolishing the state agency tasked with building affordable housing.
But the Christie administration argued that Rabner’s reappointment was part of a deal brokered with state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat. In return, Sweeney supported Christie’s nomination of Superior Court Judge Lee Solomon, a Republican.
Both men were confirmed last month.
In a news conference in May, Christie defended his decision to reappoint Rabner. He said:
The fact is that when you compromise, you don’t get everything you want. This should not be the subject of a news flash.
A spokesman for the governor told the Wall Street Journal last month that Christie’s deal with Sweeney represented his commitment to “a working relationship across party lines that produces results.”
During his first gubernatorial campaign in 2007, Christie vowed to “remake” the state Supreme Court, viewed as an activist court by Republicans. At the time, he said:
I will remake the court and I will remake it in this one simple principle. If you [want to] legislate, run for the legislature; don’t put on a black robe and go to the Supreme Court. And there won’t be any justices that I either reappoint or put on that court that do that.
His critics say Christie failed to keep his promise to voters and instead continued the status quo.
Though not required under the New Jersey constitution, the seven-member Supreme Court historically maintains a political balance, with no more than four members of one party serving at one time. Three Republicans, three Democrats, and one independent currently sit on the bench.
Two justices, Ariel Rodriguez and Mary Catherine Cuff, are temporarily assigned to the court to fill vacancies.