New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced on Monday that he is nominating an openly gay African American for a position on the state’s supreme court.
Christie announced his nomination of Bruce Harris, mayor of Chatham, N.J., during a 11:30 press conference. Gov. Christie also announced he was nominating Phil Kwon, 44, who could also make history as the state’s first Asian-American supreme court justice.
Two nominees are Phil Kwon, 44, who worked under Christie when he was U.S. attorney for New Jersey, and Bruce Harris, 61, who was elected mayor of Chatham Borough in November.
Kwon, of Bergen County, would be the first Asian-American to sit on the state Supreme Court, and Harris would be the first openly gay justice.
“I am honored to nominate these two gentlemen,” Christie said at a Statehouse news conference. “I trust the Senate will take into account their extraordinary backgrounds and experience and will give them swift hearings.”
The nominees would replace former Justice John Wallace Jr., whom Christie declined to reappoint in 2010, and Justice Virginia Long, who faces mandatory retirement on March 1.
Harris, a Republican, graduated magna cum laude from Amherst College and earned a law degree from Yale. He has enjoyed a distinguished and long career working with various law firms including Greenberg Traurig.
Christie’s other nominee, Phil Kwon, has a similarly distinguished career in law, and has worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for New Jersey for more than ten years, and between 1997-1999 served as a law clerk to the Federal District Court Judge Harold A. Ackerman.
Governor Christie, in what was perhaps a well calculated public relations move, called up Steven Goldstein, CEO of New Jersey LGBT advocacy group Garden State Equality, just before the press conference to tell him he would be nominating Harris. Goldstein, writing on the Garden State Equality blog, highlights the significance of this move quite succinctly:
Governor Christie called me on my cell phone to tell me he is nominating Bruce Harris to the New Jersey Supreme Court. Bruce will become the first openly LGBT person in history, and the third African-American person in history, to serve on the New Jersey Supreme Court. Most importantly, Bruce is eminently qualified to be a Supreme Court justice.
In an unrelated matter over whether Gov. Christie might also consider softening on a marriage equality bill the New Jersey Legislature is gearing up to consider, Goldstein said the phone conversation gave no hint of Christie changing his position and cautioned “it would be unwise to read any change,” and that “he has said in past months and years that he would veto the bill, and we take him at his word.” Thus the group will have to work hard to secure a veto-proof majority in the Legislature.
Goldstein did stress, however, that he believes Christie should be given credit for focusing on the qualifications of his supreme court nominees and not their personal characteristics.