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I’m visiting family in New Jersey. The local paper is the Star-Ledger, on line at Yesterday, the paper carried two interesting stories about a New Jersey Supreme Court tradition about which I was unaware … namely, that no more than four of the seven justices of the court should be from the same political party. The tradition is just that – a tradition – that has lasted for decades, and is not mandated by any state constitutional provision or statute. This tradition, explained in a short historical piece, will channel Governor Corzine’s approach to selecting a new Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court next year, when the sitting Chief Justice is due to retire. Poised as we are between the appointment of Chief Justice Roberts and the hearings on the nomination of Judge Alito to the national Supreme Court, I could not help but think of Bush v. Gore as I read the following paragraph from the story recounting the history of New Jersey’s unique practice:
“Robert Williams, who teaches constitutional law at Rutgers School of Law in Camden, said the Supreme Court’s bipartisan composition gives it more authority when it has to decide election-related disputes. ‘It doesn’t mean you can’t criticize the court, but you can’t criticize it on partisan grounds,’ Williams said.”
After Judge Alito is confirmed (as I believe he will be), only two of the current justices of the Supreme Court of the United States will have been appointed by Democratic presidents. (In fact, in this respect, the replacement of Justice O’Connor with Judge Alito does not amount to a change.)