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Gov. William Cahill addresses a joint session of the New Jersey Legislature in December 1970. Ace Alagna collection courtesy of the Monsignor William Noé Field Archives & Special Collections Center, Seton Hall University Libraries, South Orange.

N.J. Supreme Court: The Cahill Court

By David Wildstein, June 07 2020 10:02 pm

After Republican William T. Cahill was elected governor in 1969, the Supreme Court Justices named by Gov. Robert Meyner reached retirement age and New Jersey’s top court began to see some turnover.

Cahill made his first Supreme Court appointment in 1971 when Vincent Haneman retired.  His pick was another Republican, Worrall F. Mountain, 60, an appellate court judge from Morris County whose father had been the GOP mayor of East Orange when Woodrow Wilson was the governor of New Jersey.

John Francis and C. Thomas Schettino, both Democrats, retired in the fall of 1972.

The early front-runners for the two seats were two members of Cahill’s cabinet: Attorney General George Kugler and Robert Clifford, the Commissioner of Institutions and Agencies (now Human Services).

Kugler became involved in one of multiple scandals that shook up the Cahill administration. He was accused of covering up allegations that Secretary of State Paul Sherwin. delivered a highway contract in exchange for a $10,000 contribution to the Republican State Committee.  Sherwin went to prison.  Kugler was cleared of any wrongdoing by the State Commission of Investigation – although his hopes of going to the Supreme Court was over.

At the time, one of the potential Supreme Court nominees was Brendan Byrne, a 48-year-old politically connected Superior Court Judge who has served as Chief Justice Joseph Weintraub’s law clerk.  Byrne received considerable attention when an organized crime wiretap called him the “judge that couldn’t be bought,” but Byrne was well known in the statehouse as Meyner’s former Executive Secretary (now Chief of Staff), and as a former President of the Board of Public Utilities and Essex County Prosecutor.

Cahill took six months to make his picks, doing so in the middle of a fierce Republican primary fight against Rep. Charles Sandman (R-Erma).  He nominated his 47-year-old chief counsel, Republican Pierre Garven, and Mark Sullivan, a 62-year-old appellate court judge.

Both nominees came from well-known Hudson County political families: Garven’s father was Mayor of Bayonne from 1906 to 1910 and again from 1915 to 1919; Sullivan’s father was a judge who once ran for Mayor of Jersey City, and his father-in-law was a five-term Democratic Congressman from Jersey City.

Two weeks after Cahill nominated Garven and Sullivan, Weintraub announced that he would retire at the end of the year – a move that would later be moved up to September 1. Now 65, Weintraub decided sixteen years as Chief Justice was enough and that he wanted to travel.

Cahill spent four weeks considering his options and nominated Garven for Chief Justice, and Clifford, a Democrat, to replace Garven.

Garven had taken his seat on the Supreme Court as an Associate Justice in May, less than two weeks before Cahill lost the Republican primary. He became Chief Justice on September 1.

In June, Haydn Proctor turned 70 and Cahill replaced him with another Republican, Superior Court Judge Morris Pashman, 61, a former Mayor of Passaic.

On October 16, Garven suffered a massive stroke and died three days later – after just 49 days as Chief Justice.

Eighteen days later, Byrne was elected governor with 67% of the vote in a Watergate landslide that gave Democrats a 29-10 majority in the State Senate.

Still, Republicans still controlled the Senate until January and Cahill briefly considered nominating Pashman as the Chief Justice.

Instead, Cahill went in a completely different direction and nominated Richard Hughes, a Democrat who had served as governor from 1962 to 1970.

He waited until the day after the gubernatorial election to announce his choice.

While Byrne publicly endorsed the pick, privately he was frustrated by it. Elected with a huge mandate, Byrne wanted to choose his own Chief Justice.  Cahill outmaneuvered him by picking Hughes, who was well-liked by some of the Republican Senators in the more congenial 1970’s. Democrats had no choice but to embrace his nomination.

But by nominating Hughes, the outgoing Republican Governor shifted the Supreme Court to a 4-3 Democratic majority just as a new Democratic Governor and legislature were about to take office.

Next: The Byrne Court

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