Senator Gerald Cardinale (R-39) and Senator Michael Doherty (R-23) today introduced a constitutional amendment (SCR-152) that would abolish tenure for New Jersey Supreme Court justices and provide an opportunity for the public to decide via regular retention elections whether a justice may continue serving on the State’s highest court.
“Our current tenure system for New Jersey Supreme Court justices has repeatedly failed the state and its residents,” said Cardinale. “With only a single opportunity to review a justice’s record upon reappointment, we have little ability to hold members of the New Jersey Supreme Court accountable for their activism. As a result, we’ve had a long history of horrendous Supreme Court decisions that have made New Jersey the most expensive state in the country for property taxpayers.”
Doherty pointed to decisions including Robinson v. Cahill, Abbott v. Burke, and Mount Laurel I and II as examples of unelected, activist justices legislating from the bench.
“The New Jersey Supreme Court has imposed expensive affordable housing and school funding mandates that have cost property taxpayers tens of billions of dollars,” said Doherty. “It’s time that the people of New Jersey get a direct vote on the justices who have mandated the overdevelopment of our towns and locked the state into an outrageously expensive school funding ideology.”
Currently, the seven New Jersey Supreme Court justices are appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the New Jersey Senate. After an initial term of seven years, they can be reappointed by the Governor and reapproved by the Senate to continue serving, with tenure, until reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70 years.
The proposed amendment to the New Jersey Constitution would reduce the initial terms of justices to four years and abolish any new reappointments with tenure. Instead, each justice would be subject to a public vote to remain in office. The vote would take place at the last November general election that occurs during a justice’s term.
If a majority of voters agree to keep a justice, the justice would serve a new term of four years, or until reaching retirement age if that occurs sooner. These votes would happen every four years, unless a justice retires or is rejected by a majority of voters.
A justice who is rejected by voters would finish their term and then leave office, after which they would not be eligible to serve in any other State judicial office. The Governor would then appoint, with the advice and consent of the Senate, a new justice.
The tenure of current justices would be abolished, and each would be subject to public votes to stay in office, with initial votes staggered so no more than two justices would be voted on in any election. Current untenured justices would serve the remainder of their initial seven-year term before being subject to public votes.
“A lack of accountability on the New Jersey Supreme Court directly correlates to our state’s crisis of affordability,” said Cardinale. “When voters start moving activist justices from the bench, the rest will get the message that there is no more blank check.”
“The New Jersey Supreme Court’s activism has led to our residents paying the highest property taxes in the nation,” added Doherty. “Giving voters a choice may help temper the eagerness of Supreme Court justices to continue legislating from the bench.”