Tuesday, March 24, 2009

NJ Debate Targets Jurist

From Josh Margolin in the Newark Star-Ledger:
Slim, slight and studious, Barry Albin can walk down just about any street in New Jersey without being recognized. But that may soon change. Albin, one of seven justices on the New Jersey Supreme Court, is about to become a lightning rod in what promises to be a tough gubernatorial campaign.
The 56-year-old jurist is the only member of the court due to be nominated for lifetime tenure before Election Day. And he's already being targeted by Republican candidates as a symbol of too much judicial activism in New Jersey.
"Not only do we look forward to it (the hearing process), we intend on making it an issue, and I want to make sure that Barry Albin is not reconfirmed," said Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Lonegan.
Former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, the other leading Republican in the governor's race, said Albin's record and questions about Supreme Court nominations are "a legitimate part of the debate. The constitution set it up that way. It is an absolutely appropriate matter to be discussed in a gubernatorial campaign. There are many things this court has done over the years that have tied the hands of the governor and the Legislature." . . .
Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee that holds the confirmation hearings, said he has told Corzine's staff he plans to gavel the Albin hearing to order in June. Sarlo insisted he is "not going to allow this to turn into a political circus" but will let Republican senators engage in detailed questioning.
"I'm going to give all the members ample opportunity to ask their questions and discuss the work that he has done on the bench," Sarlo said.
Sarlo said he realizes Albin's tenure process will be the appetizer for Republicans who have long railed at the court for pushing everything from billions in school funding for poor school districts to civil unions for same-sex couples. Just last week, the court disappointed GOP leaders by unanimously refusing to consider their appeal of a decision saying Corzine does not have release e-mails he exchanged with former state workers union leader Carla Katz.
The GOP's main course, Sarlo said, will be this fall's gubernatorial race because the next governor will be responsible for nominating or renominating four of the seven justices, as two will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 and two others will be at the end of their initial seven-year terms. . . .
New Jersey's Supreme Court, modeled on the nation's high court, has the final word on interpreting state law and the Garden State's constitution. The justices are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate.
Albin, who was both a prosecutor and prominent criminal defense lawyer before coming to the bench, was nominated by his friend, then-Gov. James E. McGreevey, in 2002. A prolific writer of more than 100 majority opinions and author of controversial decisions including the civil unions case, Albin has helped decide hot-button issues from the moment he joined the court.
One of the first oral arguments he heard was in the groundbreaking case that allowed state Democrats to ignore statutory deadlines and replace U.S. Sen. Bob Torricelli on the 2002 ballot. Albin also has voted with the majority of justices on key cases on mandatory funding for poor school districts and allowing state authorities to borrow money without voter approval.
Conservatives like Lonegan take issue with what he calls Albin's "activist" judicial philosophy, saying he tries to make law rather than interpret existing law.
"Now it's time to hold him accountable," Lonegan said.
Christie said he has not yet studied Albin's record closely, though he was emphatic "the court has no business legislating. The court has no business making new law."

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