Thanks to Jeff Gamso for bringing this to my attention.
Disclaimer: I don’t know much about New Jersey, or its Supreme Court, other than that it was the court that sent us William Brennan, who was a mixed bag. I may have cited a case or two from there over my long career, but if I did I don’t specifically remember.
The short story is that the governor of NJ, Chris Christie (two Christ references in one name is a little much, isn’t it? Or maybe it’s some kind of “mandate”), in a departure from decades of tradition, declined to re-appoint an already sitting state supreme court justice. The justice was African-American, named John Wallace. The governor then appointed one of his (presumably) lawyer-buddies to fill the vacancy. Then the state senate’s president, one Sweeney (oh, to be an Irishman in New Jersey) blocked that appointment. Then the chief judge of the NJ supreme court stepped in and “temporarily” filled the position with a lower court judge the New York Times characterized as being “well respected”, probably meaning he went to Harvard. (Sorry, Dartmouth and Cornell, not Harvard but still Ivy League and deserving of the “well-respected” moniker from the NY Times)(No wait! That was the governor’s appointee. The judge’s appointee was one Edwin Stern. He went to Columbia. Still not Harvard. Still Ivy League, though. And closer to the hearts of the NY Times editors, no doubt.)
Then Justice Rivera-Soto, another justice of the court, called the chief judge’s appointment unconstitutional and has declined to participate in any more adjudications, effectively going on “strike”.
The New York Times says Rivera-Soto should “do his job or resign”, which is enough all by itself for me to take Rivera-Soto’s side. It cites some bullshit incident where Rivera-Soto supposedly used his position as a judge to influence a schoolyard bullying matter involving his son to opine that Rivera-Soto is, heaven forfend, not “above reproach”, unlike other judges, the Times implies, a proposition which reveals either that the New York Times is lying or that they don’t know any judges.
I guess the other members of the supreme court censured Rivera-Soto for that incident. Maybe that censure angered him. Or maybe he’s just thinking of his own re-appointment from the same governor a year down the line, trying to fake a principled stand for a different judge when he’s really concerned about his own hide. Or maybe he really does think that the chief judge can’t temporarily fill the vacancy, though that does not seem plausible.
I don’t see much similarity between the power plays of some well-heeled New Jersey politicos and the lawyer strikes I have advocated. One of the things this exposes is the relative low character of these power players in comparison with real lawyers, figuratively knifing each other in the back to grasp the brass ring of some prestigious appointment.
The judiciary would be greatly improved if their ranks were selected only from the criminal defense bar, and even then only from among those who had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the job: it is not a position a sane man would want. Neither is the presidency of the US, which is how you know we are being ruled by psychopaths.
I’ve gone on too long again. You know what I’m doing? Addressing myself to Gamso’s underlying point that the system is basically sound, that judges are basically good people who stray once in a while and oh, you know, steal, rape and murder with their otherwise well deserved position, and since that’s true there’s no justification for lawyers to take the risk of refusing to participate by striking. Whereas I think it’s hopeless and that the only thing to do is hit back, non-violently of course, by striking where appropriate and tactically and strategically useful.
I love Jeff. He writes really well, and he’s very smart, and he doesn’t really need to hear anything about all this from me, because he already knows it.