Battle over NJ Supreme Court Nominees Continues

Gov. Chris Christie hasn’t said what his next move will be in the failed New Jersey Supreme Court nomination of Phillip Kwon. A confirmation hearing for his second nominee, Bruce Harris, will be rescheduled.

The New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee spent all Thursday grilling Kwon, 44, and then voted 7-6 to quash his nomination.

Christie expressed anger over the vote, calling it political payback for his reform agenda.

During the hearing, Kwon was questioned about his family’s liquor store business, which settled out of court with the IRS in a tax evasion case. Kwon’s wife and mother made daily deposits that were allegedly just below the $10,000 trigger that requires the bank to report the income.  Kwon and his wife live with his parents in Closter, N.J.

If he had been approved, Kwon would have been the first Asian-American on the New Jersey State Supreme Court. He is the second in command at the state Attorney General’s Office.

The fight between Christie and the Senate is unusual in several ways; New Jersey governors have always maintained political balance on the court, and nominees are usually well-known. It rankled Democrats that Christie calls Kwon an independent. He registered to vote in New Jersey without affiliating with a party, yet he had been a registered Republican in New York, where he had lived, until last year.

Currently, the state Supreme Court is made up of one independent, two Democrats and two Republicans, with two vacancies Christie is trying to fill.

“It's important to remember that this was certainly an unwritten rule but it was quite often spoken about for the last 60 years it was honored and has been honored by all governors,” said Robert Williams, a constitutional scholar at Rutgers Law School Camden. 

Although Kwon is a respected attorney, there is little known about his stand on matters of public policy, Williams said.

“He was clearly not of the stature that we saw here for the last 50 years,” Williams said.