Home>Governor>Murphy, Ciattarelli trade jabs over guns, SCOTUS expansion

Former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Murphy, Ciattarelli trade jabs over guns, SCOTUS expansion

By Nikita Biryukov, April 15 2021 4:50 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy’s campaign attacked Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli on gun control as the challenger called for Murphy to denounce a House bill that would expand the number of seats on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“While Governor Murphy has enacted among the strongest gun safety laws in the nation, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli wants to roll back our progress to put the gun lobby ahead of New Jersey families,” Murphy campaign spokesman Jerrel Harvey said. “New Jerseyans need a Governor who fights to protect them from gun violence, and Assemblyman Ciattarelli’s out-of-touch, pro-gun agenda is too extreme for New Jersey.”

The attack over guns isn’t the first Ciattarelli has face since announcing his gubernatorial bid. In December, then-candidate Doug Steinhardt attacked Ciattarelli on guns from the right, charging the former assemblyman had “a history of turning your back on the legal gun community.”

Ciattarelli received a 78% rating from the National Rifle Association when he ran for governor as an unabashedly pro-gun candidate in 2017, but that rating number dropped to 58% in an updated rating the NRA released late last year.

As an assemblyman, he opposed bills reducing maximum magazine capacities and requiring background checks for firearm purchases, though he sponsored a measure that would have created a statewide gun buyback program and was one of only four Republicans to join a Democratic bid to override former Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of a bill that would have made it more difficult for people with records of mental health illnesses to obtain firearm permits.

The Murphy campaign’s offensive came hours after the governor announced a series of new gun control proposals that included raising the minimum age to purchase rifles and shotguns from 18 to 21 and bar the sale of certain high-caliber firearms, which Ciattarelli has previously opposed.

The Republican charged the incumbent was attempting to turn gun owners into patsies.

“The Murphy campaign is starting to sound more and more desperate,” Ciattarelli said. “Let me be very clear on the gun issue: Law-abiding women and men have a Constitutional right to own guns, and politicians like Phil Murphy, who scapegoat upstanding citizens for the actions of criminals or the mentally ill, should be ashamed of themselves.”

He said he would enforce existing gun laws and work to expand firearms access for victims of domestic violence and others who “demonstrate a justifiable need to protect themselves.”

Independent of the governor’s attack, Ciattarelli called on Murphy to denounce a Democratic bill that would add four new seats to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The proposal by congressional Democrats to enlarge the Supreme Court simply because they want to appoint a majority of justices isn’t democracy. It’s dangerous overreach. Yes, elections have consequences, but this should never be one of them,” Ciattarelli said in a statement. “Even the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said this was a ‘bad idea’ and that ‘nine seems to be a good number.’”

Murphy’s team called the attack a bid to deflect attention from Ciattarelli’s time in Trenton.

“This is yet another attempt from Assemblyman Ciattarelli to distract New Jersey voters from his extreme record,” Harvey said. “As a reminder, Assemblyman Ciattarelli is the same person who gleefully praised Trump for packing the federal bench with conservative justices and launched a misogynistic attack against New Jersey Supreme Court nominee Rachel Wainer Apter.”

The challenger called Wainer Apter, a Harvard Law School graduate who clerked for three federal judges, including Ginsburg, an “inexperienced activist” when Murphy announced the nomination in March.

Republicans rallied against expansion of the high court in a bid to hamstring President Joe Biden’s campaign last year, viewing the expansion of a conservative court majority under Trump as one of the former president’s greatest accomplishments.

But the federal legislation appeared doomed from the outset. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cali.) said she did not intend to bring the bill to a vote before it was even introduced, though the issue could still be a vulnerability for Democrats.

Biden last week announced the formation of a panel to weigh reforms the Supreme Court, including to the size of its bench, and that could emerge as a Republican rallying cry in the coming months.

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