Thursday, September 21, 2006

Supreme switcharoo

As expected, Governor Jon Corzine today nominated New Jersey Supreme Court Justice James Zazzali to replace the retiring Deborah Poritz as Chief Justice of the state's top court. The governor also nominated Appellate Division Judge Helen Hoens as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, filling the vacancy created by Poritz's upcoming retirement:

Under the state constitution, Poritz must retire by the time she turns 70 on Oct. 26. Poritz today said she will serve until that date. The first woman to hold the position, Poritz was named to the bench by then-Gov. Christie Whitman in 1996. Poritz is a Republican. Like Corzine, Zazzali is a Democrat.

The opening created by Poritz's departure and a Zazzali promotion is considered a Republican seat because of New Jersey's nonbinding tradition of having at least three justices from each party on the seven-member court.Zazzali will turn 70 next June, setting the stage for a second chief justice nomination for Corzine next year.

Although we initially thought that making Justice Zazzali the chief for less than a year was silly, we do respect the governor's right to select the court's chief justice and his willingness to abide by tradition of keeping the 4-3 political split is wise. Also, Justice Zazzali is a well-respected jurist and was a well-respected lawyer. He is an excellent choice to replace the retiring Poritz. Even if its just for a year.

The only remaining Supreme Court hot-button issue now is how the court will rule on its gay marriage case -- a ruling that is expected to come down right before Poritz retires.

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