Sunday, October 22, 2006

Liberal Judge to Hand Victory to Kean?

The Hotline notes that the New Jersey Supreme Court may be about to hand gay rights advocates a 'victory' on gay marriage. And judicial 'victories' for gay marriage go almost hand-in-hand with electoral victories for Republicans. Even in liberal New Jersey, a court decision to require gay marriage might energize Republicans to come to the polls to register their displeasure by voting against Menendez.


On 10/26, the chief of justice of the New Jersey supreme court, Deborah T. Poritz, turns 70, and will retire.

Pending before her court at this writing is a potentially explosive same-sex marriage case. In '02, two gay couples sued New Jersey for denying them the right to marry. The Supreme Court finally heard oral arguments in Feb. It has yet to unveil its decision.

Consider the political repercussions if NJ becomes the second state in the country to legalize gay marriage.

Poritz's questions suggest she'll vote to expand the definition of marriage. If the court doesn't rule by next Thursday, they'll be forced to rehear the case with the new chief justice. Observers are fairly certain that the court, will, in fact, tender a decision by Oct. 26.

"The New Jersey Supreme Court is famously assertive and famously liberal," one court watcher e-mailed us. " On the other hand, they have also been accused of being attuned to political undercurrents -- think of the Torricelli decision."

Gay rights advocates are fairly optimistic about the case on its merits but worry about the backlash if the court rules before the election.

Be aware that there appears to be little difference between the Kean and Menendez positions on gay marriage. However, Kean reportedly support a state amendment to block gay marriage, while Menendez has no position on it, and has voted against the federal amendment.

Perhaps Menendez should use this time to figure out what his position on gay marriage is, so he doesn't accidentally tell different audiences different things.

With the Steele-Cardin race tied in the latest poll, Conrad Burns apparently closing the gap in Montana, and Harold Ford shooting himself in the foot, Democrats ought to be sweating a little bit about the improvmements that they've been counting on in the Senate this year.

Oh - but take this for what it's worth.

Update: A commenter clarifies that the Hotline has an important detail wrong: there is no requirement that the Supreme Court hand down its decision by October 26. Apparently, it is not unusual for decisions to be handed down after the session has closed. Thus it's unclear whether the decision will come before or after the election.

Back to the top.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Maybe not:

From Today's Star-Ledger

Overtime allowed

Among the cases argued during Chief Justice Deborah Poritz's tenure on the state Supreme Court is a claim by seven same-sex couples that New Jersey's Constitution protects their right to marry. While supporters and opponents of gay marriage expect the decision will be issued by Thursday, when Poritz reaches the manda tory retirement age of 70, there are no rules requiring that.

In fact, if history is a yardstick, Poritz could still work on the case after she's off the court.

Justice Daniel O'Hern retired from the court on May 23, 2000, his 70th birthday, but continued to take part in three dozen cases that already had been argued.

O'Hern wrote the majority opinion in three of those cases. He cast the deciding vote in a 4-3 ruling that invalidated fees charged by a county utility authority to pay off $80 million of debt. He also voted with the majority to uphold the sentences of three death-row inmates.

The last decision in which he took part was the most controversial: A 4-2 ruling in which the court struck down a law that re quired physicians to tell at least one parent before performing an abortion on a minor. Poritz wrote the opinion. O'Hern wrote the nine-page dissent. The decision was issued Aug. 15, 2000, almost three months after O'Hern retired and two months after his successor, Justice James Zazzali, took his seat on the court.

O'Hern was not the first to participate after officially retiring.

"It's steeped in our history," court spokeswoman Winnie Comfort said.

Party poopers Speaking of Zazzali, the Auditor has learned why he was in such a rush to be confirmed as chief jus tice. Justice Zazzali, who will replace Poritz, asked the state Senate to suspend its rules and confirm him last Monday, just mo ments after he won the endorsement of the Judiciary Committee.