New Jersey Democrats have long argued that they would approve only “diverse” nominees to the state Supreme Court. But now, as liberal opposition builds against Gov. Christie’s most recent picks, the definition of diverse appears to be changing.
One of the two nominees, Monmouth County Superior Court Judge David Bauman, was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and would be the first Asian American on the high court.
Yet the Legislature’s black caucus, the state Latino Action Network, and a broad coalition of more than 50 groups, including teachers’ unions and Planned Parenthood, are opposing Bauman and the other nominee, Robert Hanna, who is white, primarily because they would not make the court more diverse – and specifically, because they’re not African American or Latino.
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The chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, Sen. Ronald Rice (D., Essex), went further, saying that he would vote to confirm only a Hispanic and an African American for the two vacant seats. He wants to maintain the minority representation lost when two justices recently left the bench: John Wallace, an African American whom Christie did not reappoint, and Roberto Rivera-Soto, a Hispanic who asked not to be reappointed.
Rice cited the struggles of Latinos and African Americans while acknowledging that Asian Americans also have faced discrimination. But, he added: “The reality is that African Americans have the greatest struggle in this country, and we’re still discriminated against most in this country, and so are Latinos.”
Rice said Christie wanted to designate just one court seat for minorities – “that spot is for y’all,” as Rice put it. To take two seats that had gone to a black and Latino and then “replace us with another ethnic group” is “diminishing the growth of diversity.”
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Democrats approved [Christie's] first pick, Anne Patterson, who is white, after a long impasse. Christie touted his next two nominees as fulfilling Democratic calls for diversity: Bruce Harris is black and gay; Phillip Kwon was born in Korea. But Democrats turned them away, citing questionable qualifications in Harris’ case and shady family business dealings along with stealth Republican leanings in Kwon’s case. It was the first time since the modern judiciary was established in the mid-20th century that a Legislature rejected gubernatorial high court nominees.
When announcing the Bauman and Hanna nominations earlier this month, Christie was asked about Democratic requests for an African American justice. “We had the chance to confirm an African American justice, and they turned me down,” he said.
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