Judicial Independence….One Lawyer’s Opinion

JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE

By: Darrell Felsenstein, Esq.  

Much has been written lately about judicial independence, following Governor Christie’s decision not to grant tenure to New Jersey Supreme Court Justice John E. Wallace.  By all accounts, Justice Wallace’s time on the Court has been nothing short of exemplary.  The New Jersey Constitution permits a Governor, after a Judge’s first seven years on the bench, to re-evaluate a Judge before granting tenure.  The standard has always been that where a Judge has displayed judicial competence and met all standards of judicial fitness that re-appointment was assured.  As eight retired New Jersey Supreme Court Justices recently stated, in protesting Governor Christie’s decision: “There is simply no question that the intent of the Framers of the Constitution: Reappointment would be denied only where a judge was deemed unfit, a standard that ensured the independence of the State’s Judiciary under the Constitution.”  This is not a question of Republican versus Democrat but of the basic framework for democracy.  Certainly, Governor Christie’s nominee, Anne Patterson, appears eminently qualified but a Judge cannot make determinations based on that day’s political whim. Politics should have no role in the substantive decisions made in court.

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