New Jersey Senate committee rejects state Supreme Court nominee

Bruce A. Harris was nominated by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for a seat on the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

Bruce A. Harris was nominated by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for a seat on the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

The New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee has rejected the nomination of attorney Bruce Harris to become a justice on the Supreme Court of New Jersey. The confirmation would have made Harris the third African-American, and the first openly gay member of the Garden State’s highest court.

In the days leading up to the nomination hearing some analysts had said the lack of support for the appointment was due in part to Mr. Harris’ lack of courtroom experience. Yet other analysts said the disagreement was more political. Harris, a Republican, was appointed by a Republican governor and had faced confirmation by a Democratic controlled Senate.

In the past Governor Christie had said that he would be more deliberate about his picks for courts of all levels of the state’s judiciary. This led to charges by¬† that the governor had politicized the process. Last month Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D), chairman of the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “This governor has politicized our judiciary like no other.”

Yesterday’s hearing did focus in part on the extent of Harris’ courtroom experience. The issue had been raised by several legislators. Harris currently of counsel at Greenberg Traurig is an experienced corporate litigator. He earned an MBA from Boston University in 1979 and later his law degree from Yale Law School in 1992.

Debate also centered on the fact that Harris had said he would recuse himself from hearing any case on same-sex marriage. This fact prompted what the Philadelphia Inquirer reported was a noteworthy statement by state Sen. Nia Gill, who is also an African-American attorney.

Sen. Nia Gill (D., Essex), the only African American on the committee, went so far as to bring up the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice.

“What would have happened if Thurgood Marshall said, ‘I want to be on the Supreme Court, and I don’t want to hear any cases with respect to civil rights’?” she asked.

Christie later said Gill’s comment “took the prize” on a “day of just ridiculous, reprehensible conduct.”

In the end the committee voted 7-6 against allowing Harris’ nomination to proceed out of committee, which would have led to a full vote by the entire Senate.

More coverage:

New Jersey Star-Ledger’s coverage of the Bruce Harris hearing

New Jersey Star-Ledger live blog of the Bruce Harris hearing

New York Times report on the Bruce Harris hearing

WNYC’s analysis of Bruce Harris’ nomination fight

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