TRENTON - Gov. Christie nominated the head of the Board of Public Utilities and a Superior Court judge Monday to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court, calling his selections a "compromise" with Democrats to end a long-running stalemate over the high court.
Robert Hanna, 56, of Madison, Morris County, worked for Christie at the U.S. Attorney's Office, where they coauthored a law journal article. As governor, Christie appointed Hanna to a top job at the Attorney General's Office and later made him president of the BPU, a cabinet position that required Senate confirmation. He is registered to vote as an independent, and donated $800 to Christie in 2009.
David Bauman, 56, of Holmdel, Monmouth County, born to a Japanese mother and American father who was serving in the Navy in Japan, is a Marine Corps veteran and a Republican who was appointed to Superior Court in Monmouth County by Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine. He would be the first Asian American on the Supreme Court bench.
Democrats rejected Christie nominees Phillip Kwon and Bruce Harris in the spring, the first times since the modern court was established in the 1940s that gubernatorial high court nominees had been voted down. There now are five permanent justices on the panel and two appellate judges who are sitting in.
The partisan rancor began early in Christie's term, when he broke precedent by not reappointing Gloucester County's John Wallace, leaving the court without an African American judge. Democrats have demanded that Christie ensure diversity and political balance when filling vacancies.
Tradition dictates that neither party dominates the court, with four members of one party and three of another. Christie said his choices represented a compromise because if they are confirmed, there would be two Democrats, three Republicans, one independent, and one justice whose affiliation is in dispute.
"These two nominees represent a political compromise on my part, a reaching out across the aisle to Democrats in order to get our court fully staffed in the way our constitution envisioned," he said.
Most Senate Democrats were mum Monday about whether they supported the candidates. Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) said in a statement that "it would be inappropriate" to comment on the candidates' merits.
Democrats are charged with interviewing and holding hearings on the nominees, but they could refuse to vote until after the gubernatorial election in November.
Christie said he did not know Bauman until his first interview with him over the summer, which lasted several hours.
But Christie knows Hanna well. In his capacity overseeing utilities, Hanna joined Christie overnight at the gubernatorial mansion at least once after Sandy. He gave the utilities an F grade for how they handled communications to 2.5 million blacked-out customers.