Chris Christie rode to national prominence when he publicly excoriated a New Jersey teacher and other citizens over differences in opinion in town hall meetings. In contrast to the plain vanilla politispeak of most public officials, his blunt, confrontational style of governing was seen as a breath of fresh air. Christie either has a naturally combative governing style or believes that choosing a new target will get the national spotlight back on him. Or maybe he just wants to create a legacy as New Jersey’s most powerful battering ram.
Christie’s latest target is New Jersey state judges. Since no federal law other than IRS statutes has jurisdiction over public pensions, state judges are the chief interpreters of what is owed to public-sector retirees. A New Jersey judge recently overturned a pension reform that Christie spearheaded and that the state legislature passed in the spring. This new law would have required state judges to increase their pension payments from 3 percent of their salary to 12 percent over seven years and make a much bigger contribution to towards their health care costs.
Now, New Jersey’s constitution prohibits the governor or the legislature from reducing the salaries of state judges. The framers included this provision to insulate the judiciary from the types of political attacks that Christie is making on them.
It’s important to note that there are sound legal disagreements about the judge’s ruling and the attorney general has filed an appeal to the state supreme court. That said, Christie’s response to the court ruling was confrontational and condescending:
The governor, instead, turned venomous. He attacked [the judge]’s integrity and accused her of “protecting her own pocketbook and those of her colleagues.” He called her the reason “why the public has grown to have such little faith in the objectivity of the judiciary.”