DePhillips opposes proposed change to appellate judge appointments

DePhillips opposes proposed change to appellate judge appointments

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TRENTON, N.J. – The appointment of appellate court judges should remain with the Judiciary, Assemblyman Christopher P. DePhillips says. He opposes a proposal floated by Sens. Nick Scutari and Raj Mukherji to transfer that power to the governor and senate.

“Senators Scutari and Mukherji are creating a solution in search of a problem,” DePhillips (R-Bergen) said. “What is the public policy concern that is justifying this proposal?”

The proposal would eliminate the existing appellate division and instead create a separate Court of Appeals. The governor would nominate appellate judges who would then be vetted and approved by the Senate.

DePhillips said critics of the plan, himself included, are rightly concerned about the process being politicized and robbing the Judiciary, a co-equal branch of government with the Executive and Legislative branches, of its independence.

“There is a long-standing tradition of judicial independence in the appellate division. Taking experienced trial level judges from the Superior Court, and then appointing them to the appellate division furthers – not detracts from – the administration of justice,” DePhillips said. “The sponsors have not identified why the current system of appointment by the chief justice is lacking, is harmful, or fails to provide for an experienced pool of candidates for the appellate division.”

The New Jersey Constitution of 1947 created the state’s appellate court division. Under the system laid out, trial judges are nominated by the governor and vetted and confirmed by the Senate. The state’s Supreme Court chief justice appoints those trial judges to the appellate division, which is part of the Superior Court. The proposed changes would upend the state constitution and require the public to vote on that change.

“The legislature should not take such a cavalier approach to amending the state constitution. The legislature should not adopt a ‘shoot from the hip’ approach to amending the constitution where, as here, the problem has not even been identified,” DePhillips added. “Finally, the legislature is already significantly involved in the operations of the judiciary. We do not need to increase that involvement.  For the sake of separation of powers, this idea should be scrapped.”