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Christie’s Judicial Shuffle Escalates Supreme Court Battle

To Christie, LaVecchia is not a Republican at all. “Jaynee LaVecchia never registered as a Republican. Just because she worked for two Republican governors doesn’t make her a Republican,” Christie said a year ago at the height of the debate over his Harris and Kwon Supreme Court nominations that were eventually rejected.

If LaVecchia counts as an independent, Christie would theoretically be within his rights to appoint three Republicans -- Hanna, Baumann and Fernandez-Vina -- to replace Hoens and fill-ins Cuff and Rodriguez, giving him potentially four reliable conservative votes on the court, no matter how LaVecchia votes.

As Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), the Senate Judiciary Committee chair, put it after Harris’s nomination was defeated last summer, Democrats are willing to give Christie a 4-3 majority that includes LaVecchia as a Republican, but not a “supermajority” of four conservative Republicans, plus LaVecchia, on a seven-member Supreme Court.

If the impasse over the political makeup of the court continues, as is likely at least past the November election, Christie’s decision to try to replace Hoens with Fernandez-Vina actually makes little difference to the court because neither Hoens nor Fernandez-Vina were likely to be confirmed.

It does make a political difference, however, since Christie can criticize Senate Democrats for refusing to confirm Fernandez-Vina as the second Hispanic Supreme Court justice in New Jersey history -- an attractive issue when Democrats are running a Latina, Milly Silva of the Service Employees International Union, for lieutenant-governor. Christie wasn’t going to get any political traction criticizing Democrats for failing to reappoint a Republican woman justice from Somerset County.

“The whole battle over the Supreme Court is about politics, and some of us have been hoping for some kind of a grand bargain [between Christie and Sweeney] because a compromise here is hard to imagine given that there are two strong-willed politicians involved who are equally convinced that they are sticking to their principles,” Williams said. “It’s the judiciary, and the people who depend on it for fair decisions, who suffer.”

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