The Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday voted 7-6 against the appointment of Bruce Harris, the current mayor of Chatham Borough.
Harris was the first openly LGBT and third African-American person to be nominated to the New Jersey Supreme Court.
The vote was nearly on party lines, with all Democrats except one voting against Harris. The previous week, the committee also rejected Christie nominee Paul Kwon with a 7-6 vote, marking the first time that the Senate Judiciary Committee had rejected the governor’s nominee for the New Jersey Supreme Court in decades.
Before taking its vote, the committee spent four hours questioning Harris.
The Democrats pointed out that Harris, a finance attorney, lacked courtroom experience and took umbrage with his pledge to recuse himself if a case regarding marriage equality were to come before him.
One Democrat suggested that the recusal offer was motivated by political calculation, which Harris denied.
“No one made me do it,” he said, noting that, while he believed he could be impartial in such cases, his previous public backing of same-sex marriage would make his involvement inappropriate.
While Republicans on the panel championed his recusal commitment as evidence of his moral fiber, Democrats argued that his status as an LGBT community member should not necessitate a recusal.
Garden State Equality chair Steven Goldstein said he had mixed feelings about the committee’s rejection.
Goldstein said he had been a proponent of Harris prior to Thursday’s hearing, although he had reservations about his intent to recuse himself from marriage-equality cases. But, after hearing his reasons for recusal, Goldstein said he supported the “no” votes.
“Though I so very much wanted Mayor Harris to make it onto the court and make history, his answers on recusal were nonsensical,” he said.
Goldstein said that Harris’ belief in his own impartiality but continued commitment to recusal did not add up.
“Because of that, no one, including us members of the LGBT community, could possibly fault any senator on the committee for voting his or her conscience, including voting no on the nomination,” he said.
Jen Colletta can be reached at email@example.com.