In what was pretty much political kabuki theater, The Democratically controlled Senate Judiciary Committee in New Jersey rejected the nomination of Mayor Bruce Harris of Chatham Borough to the state’s Supreme Court. Harris was the first openly gay and the third African-American to be nominated to the state’s highest court, but it was not surprising that he failed to secure enough votes to go to the full Senate. Governor Chris Christie’s antagonistic relationship with the Democrats has lead to a lot of bad blood between the two sides.
Democrats went after Harris for his lack of courtroom experience and his decision to recuse himself should the issue of same-sex marriage comes before the court. The Republicans praised Harris repeatedly with one of the Republicans even calling his testimony “excellent”. It was obvious throughout the hearings that the Republicans were warm to Harris while the Democrats were cool.
Harris spent twenty years as a finance attorney.
The biggest problem appears to be his intention to recuse himself on the issue of same-sex marriage. NJ.com notes:
On the recusal issue, Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-Somerset) came to Harris’ defense, saying a court ruling requires judges to recuse themselves on some matters.
But when Harris said he wasn’t aware of the ruling, Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex) said she was even more troubled.
“That’s why your recusal is more disturbing — because you’re not a judge and you have already actively taken yourself out of the process,” Gill said. “Is your recusal political?”
Harris calmly replied, “My decision to recuse myself on same-sex marriage is no political calculus.”
He said that although he could be impartial in deciding such cases, he didn’t want to give the public the opportunity to question that impartiality because he had advocated for same-sex marriage in 2009.
“I want you to know, it was my decision,” Harris said. “No one made me decide it.”
Harris said that he did not want to give the impression of bias in the judgement, but it should be noted that the same thinking would require that all straight judges recuse themselves from the case as well. Steven Goldstein, the chairman of Garden State Equality, monitored the testimony remotely and stated that “As someone who has supported Bruce Harris” nomination to the state Supreme Court, I am terribly disappointed with his answers on his recusal. Frankly, I found them nonsensical. Mayor Harris said flat-out he could rule on same-sex marriage in an impartial manner. So why is he recusing himself? I heard that answer and I was mystified.”
Senator Kevin O’Toole, a Republican, was thrilled with this supposed concern about the appearance of impartiality on the bench; however, no word if O’Toole has called for the removal of Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and John Roberts.
It should be noted that Governor Chris Christie appeared to nominate Harris expecting that the Democrats would not dare to vote against the nomination of a gay Black man.