The political stalemate over filling a vacancy on the New Jersey Supreme Court reached a new low when Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto jumped into what had been a political battle.
Rivera-Soto says he won't rule on any cases while a substitute justice sits on the high court. He contends the makeup of the high court with a substitute justice is unconstitutional. But there is precedent for it. His comments have only added to the rancor over the court vacancy.
The controversy now involves all three branches of state government, and casts the judiciary in an even more unseemly light.
This battle has dragged on long enough. The focus should no longer be on winning or losing, but on ending the impasse and getting a full complement of justices to handle cases.
This all began last spring, when Gov. Christie refused to reappoint Justice John E. Wallace Jr., a moderate and the only African American on the court. That error in judgment continues to haunt the process to name a successor.
The Republican governor will get at least three more chances to make appointments to the court as other terms expire in the next three years. So, he could have easily avoided a fight with the Legislature by allowing Wallace to remain on the bench until he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70, in two years.
But in his rush to steer the court in a more conservative direction, Christie jumped at a chance to put his stamp on it. Despite impeccable credentials and a record as an outstanding jurist, Wallace was removed.
Christie nominated Anne M. Patterson, a Morris County lawyer and former deputy attorney general who has had a successful career representing corporate interests in product-liability cases.
But Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) has refused to schedule confirmation hearings. Sweeney has made his point. Now what? To end the stalemate, both sides should agree to compromise on a qualified nominee who could win confirmation. That course would be in the public's best interest.
Meanwhile, if Rivera-Soto feels so strongly that he cannot fulfill his duties, he should heed calls to step down. His term expires next year anyway, and his chances for reappointment are poor. He was censured by his own court in 2007 for using his position to influence another judge in a dispute involving his son. He won't be missed.