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Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Murphy won’t rule out barring judicial appointments in last year of gubernatorial terms

‘I have not thought about that,’ governor says

By Nikita Biryukov, September 21 2020 2:33 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy did not rule out barring state judicial appointments in the final year of a governor’s term, saying he had not considered doing so, as national politicians prepare for what will surely be a bitter, partisan fight over late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I have not thought about that,” Murphy said.

Ginsburg, 87, died Friday from complications related to pancreatic cancer. Shortly after her death was announced, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his chamber would move whoever President Donald Trump nominated for the seat, a stark and clearly partisan shift from the Republican leaders’ 2016 call to not confirm judges during an election year.

Following the 2016 death of Justice Antonin Scalia, McConnell blocked the nomination of U.S. Circuit Court Judge Merrick Garland, citing the Thurmond rule, an unwritten and oft-ignored rule that says the Senate shall not confirm judicial nominees after some point in the fourth year of a President’s term.

Garland, who was nominated to Scalia’s seat roughly eight months before polls opened in 2016, never got a hearing.

“The rank hypocrisy of those like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is showing. They want to ram a nominee through six weeks before a presidential election when just four years ago they refused to offer even a hearing to a nominee whose name was put forward eight months before an election,” Murphy said. “’Let the people decide,’ they screamed in 2016, but today they’re thumbing their noses at the people in the name of a narrow political ideology.”

There are clear differences between New Jersey’s judicial appointments and federal ones. In the Garden State, judges are appointed to a seven-year term. If reappointed and confirmed, they can serve until the mandatory retirement age of 70.

A handful of Republican senators — namely Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) — have said the court’s vacancy ought to be filled by whoever wins the presidency on Nov. 3, though no Republicans have committed to opposing Trump’s yet-to-be-announced nominee if confirmation hearings move forward.

Nor do they have much reason to. Regardless of any given GOP senator’s feelings on the president, another conservative Supreme Court justice would redefine the high court for a generation or more, absent drastic action from Democrats.

“It’s a blatant power grab by those whose mission is to undo decades of civil rights progress, protect polluters over the environment, gut healthcare for millions of Americans and denying a woman to make her own medical and reproductive decisions,” Murphy said.

Trump has said he intends to announce his pick to replace Ginsburg on Friday or Saturday.

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