The often unorthodox New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has surprised supporters and opponents alike with the announcement Monday that he will nominate an openly gay justice for the state’s highest court. The Star-Ledger reports that if confirmed, Bruce Harris, one of two candidates nominated by Gov. Christie Monday, would become the third African-American and first openly gay New Jersey State Supreme Court Judge.
“I am honored to nominate these two gentlemen,” Gov. Christie said at a Statehouse news conference Monday. “I trust the Senate will take into account their extraordinary backgrounds and experience and will give them swift hearings.”
Gov. Christie’s second nominee, Phil Kwon, was a U.S. attorney for New Jersey and would be the state’s first Asian-American and immigrant justice. The Star-Ledger notes that Gov. Christie has emphasized that he wants to remake the Supreme Court, which he blames for tying his hands on such issues as financing poor school districts and affordable housing.
“In Bruce Harris and Phil Kwon we have two people of extraordinary legal background, of great judgement and skill, and folks who I think are going to make us very proud that they’re justices,” Gov. Christie said. “But also, I’m very cognizant of the fact that we have a diverse state, and our court needs to express and reflect that diversity and the experience that that diversity brings.”
Gov. Christie said that nominating the third African-American and first openly gay justice was an “extra benefit, but if that’s all he brought to the table he wouldn’t be standing here today. He brings an extraordinary legal background as well.”
Harris is the Republican mayor of Chatham and graduated magna cum laude from Amherst College, then with honors from Boston University Graduate School of Management. He earned a law degree from Yale.
Steven Goldstein, Chair and CEO of the state’s largest LGBT rights organization Garden State Equality, wrote in an official post on the organizations Facebook account that when Gov. Christie told him the news on his cell phone Monday “I told the Governor right then and there, you could have picked me up off the floor.”
“When I met with Governor Christie in 2010 at his request, he told me that though we would differ on some issues like marriage equality, he viewed the LGBT community as an important part of New Jersey, and that he wanted his Administration to have a good working relationship with Garden State Equality,” Goldstein writes. “That has been the case every step of the way.”
The news comes the day before the Democratic Legislature holds its first hearing on a bill allowing same-sex marriage, which The Philadelphia Inquirer reports is its top priority of the year. Gov. Christie has been supportive of civil unions in the past but opposed to gay marriage.
“Right now all it is is a bill like hundreds of bills pending in the Legislature right now,” Christie said Tuesday of the same-sex marriage bill. “I’m not someone who changes positions with the grace of a ballerina, so I wouldn’t be all atwitter in expectation.”
Whether Christie supports the bill or not, The Wall Street Journal reports that New Jersey Democrats believe they are within spitting distance of securing enough support to override his veto.
Christie has made surprising judicial appointments in the past. Over the summer, Christie vehemently chastised those who criticized his appointment of a Muslim judge.
Video of Gov. Christie’s remarks on the latest appointments: