New Jersey Justice Goes On Strike Over Appointment of Temporary Justice

New Jersey is dealing with a novel strike. New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto had gone on strike in protest to what he believes is the unlawful appointment of a temporary replacement for Justice John Wallace, who was not re-appointed by Gov. Chris Christie. Rivera-Soto believes that there is no authority for such an appointment and has refused to participate in cases with the interloper.

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner announced that he was going to appoint a judge temporarily to fill in the seat after the state Senate refused to deal with the appointment of someone to succeed Wallace.

Rivera-Soto condemned the decision: “The assignment of a Superior Court judge to serve on this court to fill a vacancy resulting from a political impasse between the executive and legislative branches thrusts the judiciary into that political thicket, all the while improperly advancing one side’s views in preference over the other’s . . . The Constitution, sober and reflective court practice, and everyday common sense each counsels against the foolhardy steps the court today takes.”

Most of the justices, however, are supporting Rabner. Senate President Sweeney condemned Rivera-Soto: “Today’s dissent from Justice Rivera-Soto shows contempt for the law, disregard for his fellow jurists and utter disdain for the right of New Jerseyans to have their cases heard by a full court. . . It officially cements his place as the worst and most ethically challenged Justice in the history of the modern judiciary.”

Democrats are calling for Rivera-Soto’s resignation. Rivera-Soto was previously criticized for ethical lapses.

I have not been able to find the specific authority that allows for the appointment of a temporary justice to the Supreme Court — leading credence to the position of Rivera-Soto. However, it is common to appoint lower court judges by designation to appellate courts in the federal system (and vice versa).

Jonathan Turley

20 thoughts on “New Jersey Justice Goes On Strike Over Appointment of Temporary Justice”

  1. The governor should be running for precedent
    Published: Thursday, December 16, 2010, 2:24 AM Updated: Friday, December 17, 2010, 8:03 AM
    Paul Mulshine/The Star Ledger By Paul Mulshine/The Star Ledge

    rivera-soto.JPGMatt Rainey/The Star-LedgerAssociate Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto: He’s given the governor a great opportunity, if he chooses to take advantage of it..

    Chris Christie’s got a tough choice here:

    Is he going to sit back and watch the Democrats self-immolate trying to impeach the sole Latin-American member of the state Supreme Court?

  2. Either he has the authority or not…I do not believe that Rivera-Soto has the right not to hear a case….

  3. Mike S. Hey!!

    “Justice in the US is hardly dispensed even-handedly or impartially.”


  4. “Citizens who turn to the courts for relief are entitled to have their cases resolved by impartial judges who focus only on the evenhanded pursuit of justice,”

    The quote from above comes from the Chief Justice as in the Trentonian article you linked. My question to all is when in US history has it ever been the case that justice was dispensed by impartial justices focusing solely on dispensing even-handed justice? I’m aware that there have been notable cases where many would think that our court system acted fairly, but my belief is that in general courts have for the most part never lived up to their duties. Justice in the US is hardly dispensed even-handedly or impartially.

  5. Rafflaw,

    On the other hand, with elected judges politics and\or fund raising can get in the way.

  6. The (New Jersey) Star-Ledger shows that Justice Rivera-Soto went along with the temporary appointment and he was participating with the new Justice for a while, but then changed his position after reading something by the Federalist Society. They also report that Justice Rivera-Soto’s opinion is that the NJ Constitution allows temporary appointments when necessary, but because the Court has a quorum without the temp, it is not necessary.

    Justice Rivera-Soto’s term is up in September (again per the Ledger) – I assume the Gov will not be reappointing him!

    To me, it seems that the legislature is at fault for not acting on the Gov’s nominee – vote the nominee down if appropriate or if they don’t like the way the Gov exercised his authority.

  7. Dredd,
    I think you hit the nail on head. That is the big problem with appointing judges. The politics get in the way. Especially with someone as crazy as Christie.

  8. From the link supplied by eniobob:

    “Christie said last week that his consideration of Wallace was not purely political. However, on Monday, he said Patterson would rebalance the court so it contained an equal number of Republicans and Democrats. The current mix is four Democrats, two Republicans and one unaffiliated justice.”

    “Christie’s nominee faces an uncertain confirmation path in the Democrat-controlled Senate.”

  9. All be it a cold day,you are quite welcome as usual:

    “anon nurse 1, December 15, 2010 at 9:48 am


    Thanks for brightening my day. 🙂

    (Seriously though, thanks for the earlier link to the Trenton news story…)”

  10. LK:

    He felt that the court was to”liberal”.That’s the reason for not re-appointing Judge Wallace.

  11. Eniobob, I’m familiar with that vid and no fan of Christie, he has anger issues and/or ego issues. Yea, he took the court all white but majority female I read, I’m not sure what’s up with that because I don’t know the leanings of the judges. Is he attempting to sway it (or solidify it) toward one or the other political philosophy?

  12. eniobob,

    Thanks for brightening my day. 🙂

    (Seriously though, thanks for the earlier link to the Trenton news story…)

  13. LK:

    I was looking for it but couldn’t find the thread that I had posted Christies actions at a Teachers Meeting in Parssipany NJ,and how he was in the persons face,well it made it to youtube,you can type in his name and take your choice of incidents.Talk about nerve this is another “cost saving”mesaure he is now put our state in.

    Swartmore mom:
    Maybe Kasich will do the same thing that Christie is trying if Ohio has to payback any money:

    Christie Hires Law Firm to Fight Feds Over ARC Reimbursement
    Thursday, December 02, 2010
    By Jim O’Grady: WNY

    New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has hired a law firm to challenge a $271 million tab the federal government says the state owes for the canceled ARC rail tunnel. Christie says he’s approved the selection of the high-powered Washington, D.C. firm of Patton Boggs.

    New Jersey Transit, which oversaw the trans-Hudson tunnel project that Christie killed in October, could ratify a contract with the firm at its meeting a week from Thursday.

    Christie’s office said yesterday the state would challenge the federal bill for money already spent on the project, known as Access to the Region’s Core, or ARC.

  14. The justice simply does not understand the constitution the way Gov. Christie does:

    The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion” (Article IV, Section 4).

    Christie is a strict constructionist (except for tunnels).

  15. eniobob: Republicans are certainly changing things. Wait until redistricting happens. Kasich followed Christie and turned down 400 million in high speed rail funds for the state of Ohio. Like they don’t need the jobs. I guess punishing the democrats wasn’t such a good strategy after all.

  16. From the linked article it appears that the Governor appointed someone but can’t or hasn’t as yet gotten the
    ratification of the state legislature. So the Chief Justice made an interim appointment. ? What does the New Jersey law say about this situation? That should be the determining factor.

  17. I think the Senate President might be guilty of hyperbole, but I am surprised that this hasn’t happened before if New Jersey appoints their judges. Notwithstanding Judge Rivera-Soto’s other issues, he seems to be taking a principled stand here. It may be the wrong one, but I don’t see it as an ethical problem, unless we are missing some facts.

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