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Read the Op-Ed by Theodore Cheng and Jhanice Domingo published in Star-Ledger

Below is the full text of an Op-Ed by Theodore K. Cheng and Jhanice V. Domingo published in the Star-Ledger on April 25, 2016. The original article may be viewed here.

 

Another chance to diversify N.J. Supreme Court falls victim to politics | Opinion

The state Senate today will more than likely confirm Walter Timpone to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

If approved, Timpone's confirmation results in once again a disproportionately non-diverse court with only one minority associate justice out of seven.

Throughout New Jersey's history, there have been only two African-American and two Hispanic Supreme Court associate justices, and not one Asian Pacific American. This glaring under-representation of minorities must be addressed and it is now incumbent upon the Senate to prove that diversity is a priority.

Walter "Wally" Timpone is one step away from becoming a justice on the state Supreme Court.

Not only must we demand that New Jersey's elected officials prioritize diversifying New Jersey's Judiciary, but we also must demand good faith and fair dealing in the judicial selection process. 

Had he been confirmed, Judge David F. Bauman would have been the first-ever Asian Pacific American associate justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. Bauman is of Japanese-American descent.

Instead, politics prevailed when Gov. Chris Christie and state Senate President Stephen Sweeney announced on April 11 a so-called bipartisan agreement to fill the seventh seat on New Jersey's highest court. That seat remained vacant for six years due to political gamesmanship by New Jersey's elected officials. Christie withdrew his nomination of Bauman, a Republican, and put up with the nomination of Timpone, a Democrat. 

According to Christie and Sweeney, the addition of Timpone finally resolves the feud over judicial independence and balance on that court, which consists of three Republicans, two Democrats, and one Independent. 

But does it?

The series of nominations to the New Jersey Supreme Court during Christie's administration has led to spirited debates within the legal community about the importance of judicial independence and balance.  Both the protection of judicial independence and preservation of political balance in the courts are important. 

But conspicuously absent from the dialogue is the critical need to make diversity a priority to achieve these two goals.

Democracy demands a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. According to the latest estimates, minorities collectively comprise 41 percent of New Jersey's population. The state is expected to become the next majority-minority state in the U.S.

Yet, its Judiciary does not today reflect the vibrant constituencies of the state.

Because Bauman — whom Sweeney, himself, described as "absolutely qualified" — was not afforded a hearing at all, his qualifications and the value he would have added to the court could not even be considered.

Diversity would have been one such value.

A diverse Judiciary enables the jurists themselves to better understand the practical consequences of their decisions on both the lawyers appearing before them and their client-litigants. 

Gov. Chris Christie poisoned the waters in Trenton during his first year in office when he removed Justice John Wallace, the court's only African-American, without any remotely justifiable reason.

A diverse Judiciary also permits jurists to learn from other jurists, assisting each other in appreciating, understanding, and ultimately resolving complicated issues that, in some cases, may disproportionately affect, or affect differently, people who are not members of the mainstream culture. 

Diversifying the Judiciary helps to improve the quality of the bench and the justice that it administers.

Politicians must not be applauded for unduly politicizing the judicial selection process, and then resolving a crisis of their own making at the expense of a well-respected jurist and New Jersey's citizens. Nor should they be excused for making decisions without any regard for much-needed diversity. 

"Politics as usual" must change, and we must hold accountable those who fail to act in the best interests of New Jersey's diverse population.

Theodore K. Cheng is a partner at the law firm of Fox, Horan & Camerini LLP and the president of the Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association of New Jersey.

Jhanice V. Domingo is a partner at the law firm of Einhorn Harris Ascher Barbarito & Frost P.C. and is a past president of the Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association of New Jersey and chair of its Judicial & Prosecutorial Appointments Committee.

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