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Former New Jersey Superior Court Judge Philip Carchman. (Photo: New Jersey State Bar Association).

15 things you should know about the new legislative redistricting tiebreaker

Philip Carchman is a Democrat, but with a history of objectivity and independence

By David Wildstein, October 08 2021 11:22 am

For a brief period of time over the next few months, former Superior Court Judge Philip S. Carchman will be the most arduously romanced man in New Jersey with the political futures of 120 state legislators potentially under his control.

Here are 15 things you should know about the new tiebreaking member of the Legislative Apportionment Commission that will redraw the state’s 40 districts – a Democrat with political ties, but with a record of independence that sometimes led to him siding with Republicans:

1. As the managing editor of the Montclair Academy school newspaper, the Montclair News, in 1958, Carchman was selected to interview Dick Clark.  Jim Courter, a future Republican congressman and 1989 gubernatorial candidate, was one year ahead of him at the school.

2. After graduating the University of Pennsylvania Law School and clerking for two Superior Court judges, he took a job as a deputy state attorney general in 1967 (Democrat Richard Hughes was governor and Arthur Sills was AG) and stayed until a few months after Republican Gov. Bill Cahill took office.

3. He spent fourteen years in a private law practice.  At age 31, he became the Princeton Municipal Court Judge for both Princeton Township and Princeton Borough when Democrat Junius Bleiman was mayor of the township and Republican Robert Cawley was the borough mayor. While in private practice and serving as a municipal court judge, Carchman worked as a hearing officer for the Civil Service Commission and the Department of Environmental Protection.

4. Through personal campaign contributions, Carchman backed two candidates for the 1981 Democratic gubernatorial nomination: Joseph Merlino, the cigar-chomping Senate President from Trenton; and John Degnan, the 37-year-old attorney general of New Jersey.  Both lost to Jim Florio.

5.  With a push from Merlino, Democratic Gov. Brendan Byrne nominated Carchman as the new Mercer County Prosecutor.  He spent more than four years as prosecutor before Republican Gov. Tom Kean named him to the Superior Court in 1986.

6. As Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, Deborah Poritz helped advance her Princeton neighbor’s judicial career.  She elevated Carchman to the Appellate Division in 1997, later made him a presiding judge, and appointed him Acting Administrative Director of the Courts – sort of the chief operating officer of the state judiciary – in 2004.  By the time he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 2012, he had spent more than four years working for the new chief justice, Stuart Rabner.  (Rabner named Carchman as his  tiebreaker pick on Thursday.)

7. While living in a Pennsylvania apartment complex in the 1970s, Carchman became president of the Meadowbrook Tenants Association.  He did such a good job as an advocate that the landlord considered him undesirable and wouldn’t renew his lease.  Carchman sued the landlord in federal court, alleging that his eviction was in retaliation of his activism and violated his freedom of speech.  He argued that tenants were a “recognized class” and accorded protection under federal civil rights laws.  Undeterred by losses at the district appeals court levels, Carchman took the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court but was unsuccessful. (Editor’s note: This could be significant in legislative redistricting, since Carchman has a history of broadly interpreting what communities of interest are and their rights to equal representation under law.)

8. During his first year in private practice, Carchman took on county organization lines and their process of endorsing candidates in primary elections.  He represented two Democratic county committee members in Morris County in a challenge to the legality of party screening committee. The judge called it a “class action for all registered Democrats” but rejected the lawsuit.

9. In 1971, after the legislature opted against calling special elections to fill vacant Senate and Assembly seats in Union County – and after a Superior Court Judge said that they were within their rights to do so, Carchman represented the New Jersey League of Women Voters and filed a brief in an appeal.  He argued that not holding special elections violated the U.S. Supreme Court’s One-Man, One-Vote ruling.  Republicans, who narrowly controlled both houses, didn’t want the election until November.   Democrats indeed flipped the Senate seat and future Byrne legislative counsel Jerry Fitzgerald English served for about ten weeks before the candidates elected for full term took office.

10. After Kean won the 1981 gubernatorial election by 1,797 votes, Carchman found himself in the middle of the most consequential event in New Jersey political history as one of the prosecutors investigating allegations of massive voter intimidation.  A group funded by the Republican National Committee hired off-duty police officers to wear “Ballot Security Task Force” armbands, place large signs at polling places explaining that people could go to jail for voter fraud, and placing aggressive challengers inside polling locations targeting communities of color.  Carchman declined to press criminal charges against those involved in the Trenton ballot security effort, but the event led to the Democratic National Committee alleging Voting Rights Act violations in a federal lawsuit.  Republicans settled the suit by entering into a consent decree prohibiting voter intimidation last lasted 36 years before its expiration in 2018.

11. In a major redistricting court case in 1991, Carchman ruled for the Republicans.  Democratic Gov. Jim Florio’s administration filed a lawsuit seeking to delay the redrawing of legislative districts until 1993 as the state fought a legal battle against the U.S. Census Bureau for significantly undercounting minorities. Carchman turned down a bid to stop the clock, giving the Legislative Apportionment Commission six days to draw the map before turning to Chief Justice Robert Wilentz to pick a tie breaker.  (The New Jersey Supreme Court upheld Carchman’s decision.) The map turned out to favor Republicans, who argued that Florio wanted to wait until voter anger over his $2.8 billion tax increase simmered. The GOP won control of the Senate and Assembly that year.

12. In 1993, Carchman was the judge assigned to a lawsuit filed by the state attorney general’s office asking the court to invalidate a portion of the unwritten rule of senatorial courtesy as it related to a senator blocking the renomination of a sitting judge.  That became a huge issue after Senate Majority Leader John Dorsey blocked a tenured reappointment for Superior Court Judge Marianne Espinosa Murphy, then the wife of former Morris County Prosecutor and ex-Democratic gubernatorial candidate Michael Murphy.  (Murphy was the son of Richard Hughes, the former governor and chief justice.)  Carchman dismissed the suit – he said there was no constitutional basis to overturn an unwritten policy — but excoriated the Senate for their practices. The Supreme validated Carchman’s ruling, and the Senate eventually opted to not apply courtesy to sitting judges.

13. Carchman refused to allow Princeton physicist Rush Holt the right to use then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s name in his ballot slogan as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Congress in New Jersey’s 12th district in 1996.  Holt wanted to use the slogan “Democrats Against Gingrich” in his off-the-line challenge to Lambertville Mayor David DelVecchio in the primary.  Carchman ruled that Holt needed Gingrich’s permission.  Holt asked, but never got a response. (He lost the primary but became the organization candidate two years later and ousted Rep. Michael Pappas.)

14. In 1997, Carchman was the judge who ruled that that the state could borrow $2.75 billion to fund pension funds without seeking voter approval.  Republican Christine Todd Whitman was governor at the time and Republican majorities in the legislature supported the borrowing plan.  Democrats opposed it.  Later, under Democratic governors and Republican legislative minorities, support for borrowing was juxtaposed.

15.  When South Jersey Democrats recruited gold medal Olympic track star Carl Lewis to run for State Senate against then-Republican Dawn Addiego in 2011, then-Secretary of State/Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno wouldn’t certify his petitions after finding he didn’t meet the constitutional four-year residency requirements.  An appeal eventually came before Carchman, who ruled against the Democrats.  (A federal court also found Lewis hadn’t lived in the state long enough.)

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