New Jersey’s highest court has turned back an effort by Gov. Chris Christie and his team of compliant and spineless lawyers to convert the judicial tribunal into an unelected mini-Legislature willing to scrap both equitable school funding and protections for school employees.
The court’s reaction was based on established legal reasoning–the concept of “original jurisdiction”–that is about as dull as law gets but, in a world turned upside down by the seizure of power in Washington by right-wing crazies, reason and dullness are precious gifts to us all.
Because the alternative–what we’re seeing now in the attempted conversion of the United State Supreme Court into a cog in the white nationalist wheels of government–is law based on alt-right ideology and its close companion, the raw opportunism of cowardly Republicans and other fellow-travelers.
Here’s what happened in New Jersey: Christie didn’t want to go through the cumbersome process of changing the school aid formula by making his case to the Legislature. The New Jersey Supreme Court already upheld the aid law. So, after packing the court–he appointed four of the seven members–the governor asked the court to overturn its earlier decision so he could do something crazy: Ignore the needs of urban and other poor children by giving out aid based on an equal amount for every child, no matter what his or her circumstances.
Insanely–there’s a lot of that Orwellian stuff going around now–Christie called it a “fairness formula.”
But, more than that, he wanted to use the state’s highest court as a club against the public employees he hates so much. Christie wanted the court to invalidate teacher tenure, seniority, and collective bargaining statutes so urban districts would be free to fire whomever they wanted for whatever reason they wanted.
Those of us who remember the sane times that preceded Christie and his idol, Donald Trump, will recall that politicians simply cannot force their will on the instruments of government without due process of law.
But this is a new day and people don’t act the way they once did–especially people who suck up to power and make money from it. Take David Hespe, for example. He’s a lawyer who was Christie’s education commissioner. To do his boss’s bidding, this cowardly lap-dog signed an affidavit supporting Christie’s effort–knowing damn well it flew in the face of established procedure.
Because Hespe knew he was asking the court to do what violated clearly delineated law–the New Jersey Supreme Court is an appellate court and does not have what’s called “original jurisdiction.” It is not a trial court.
Young lawyers starting out are warned not to use the courts frivolously; they could be sanctioned, even lose their licenses, if they seek from the judiciary what they know, or should know, they cannot legally have.
Didn’t stop Christie, a lawyer. Didn’t stop Hespe, a lawyer.
But Christie and Hespe are part of the new right-wing consciousness that has poisoned sane thinking. They undoubtedly figured that, maybe, the members of the state supreme court–especially the four appointed by Christie–would be like them: Lawyers who don’t mind bending the law to ideology and opportunism. What the hell–it’s happening throughout the country. So Christie and Hespe thought they might as well take the chance.
They did–and the court rebuffed them.
Good for the court.
“The Court declines to exercise original jurisdiction to hear this matter in the first instance,” the Supreme Court order simply read.
If Christie and his crazies–and the voucher and charter school opportunists who joined the suit– want to start a new suit attacking employee protections, they have a right to “file an action for relief in the trial court,” the order stated.
That’s how it’s done. Trial courts have “original jurisdiction” to hear the facts of a controverted matter. Only after decisions are rendered do parties then seek appellate relief from higher courts. If Christie wants to file a law suit–go at it. The appellate courts will get to it in a year or so, maybe more.
Sweet reason. Sweet, dull, old-fashioned, Enlightenment-based reason.
Nice to see it while it lasts. Because, like most things precious in our life, it’s fragile and depends on our ability to think rather than act like bullies and thugs.
Nice to see it while it lasts. Because I don’t think it will last too long.