Why Christie’s judicial appointments could derail his veep ambitions

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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With Mitt Romney under fire for hiring an openly gay spokesman, a growing chorus of conservatives are also voicing concern over his possible running mate’s appointment of an openly gay Republican to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Frequently mentioned as a possible veep pick, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s second appointment to the bench, Bruce Harris, has proven highly controversial, primarily because he wrote a letter to state legislators comparing opposition to gay marriage with segregation.

Conservatives are not pleased. “Governor Christie has shown that he can’t be trusted on judges,” says Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. “That’s a huge negative for him. Given all the other [VP] choices available, why would any conservative want to put Christie in position to advise Mitt Romney on judges or even to become president?”

It didn’t have to be this way.

Governor Christie initially impressed judicial conservatives when he broke precedent and refused to reappoint an incumbent to the court. But his next two appointments greatly disappointed them — partly because neither of the nominees had a clear judicial philosophy — much less an originalist philosophy in the mold of Justices Thomas or Scalia.

Reached by email, Carrie Severino, the Chief Counsel and Policy Director of the Judicial Crisis Network, noted: “[I]f Bruce Harris, [Christie’s] current supreme court nominee, has a cohesive judicial philosophy it is known only to him and (we can hope) Governor Christie. The available evidence is disheartening.”

New Jersey’s supreme court plays what can only be described as an “expansive” role in the state. The Garden State has (thanks to the court) the highest property taxes in the nation. For this reason, judicial appointments were a key issue during Chris Christie’s successful gubernatorial run. Conservatives hoped a Republican governor might gradually change the court through attrition.

But when they see what Christie has done regarding justices in New Jersey, it hits on a touchy topic for national conservatives who have been badly burned by “stealth” nominees in the past. Justice Souter (who was pushed by then Bush Chief of Staff Jon Sununu — now a top Romney surrogate) — is probably the best example.

Heretofore, Christie’s tough rhetoric — and his commendable job of standing up against the teacher’s unions in New Jersey — have earned him much praise on the right. But Romney still has work to do with conservatives, and one can only imagine this is a strike against Christie when it comes to earning the veep nod.


The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin implies I’m “anti-gay” for this post.

Ed Whelan pens a clarification, noting: “When it comes to judging, I would much rather have a gay judge who is genuinely committed to originalism and judicial restraint than a heterosexual judge who isn’t.”

Matt K. Lewis