Bruce Harris was back on the dais Monday night as Chatham Borough's mayor for the borough's council meeting after losing his bid for a State Supreme Court seat.
Harris became the second of Gov. Chris Christie's Supreme Court nominees to be rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee in May. The committee's vote, while not quite along party lines, was 7-6.
When former State Sen. Leanna Brown learned of the results of , she said she was "devastated."
"It turned into a battle of wills between [Senate Majority Leader Robert] Sweeney and Gov. Christie," Brown, a Chatham resident, said. "Sweeney wanted to prove he could keep his troops together, and the court suffers."
Before the hearing began, she was "confident" Harris would be confirmed. Afterwards, she said, "They defined Bruce as a nice guy, but that isn't his only quality. They [ignored] the fact that he went to Amherst, Yale, his work on the Planning Board, where he looked over all sorts of ordinances and applications, he listened and gave everybody a fair shot, which is all you want of a judge."
Committee members who voted against confirming Harris cited his lack of litigation experience as a reason for their vote, something which "has never been used before," Brown said. "I just don't see how they could do it, especially when he was supported by the State Bar and so many other people and organizations."
Vicki Fife, a member of the , has known Harris for years. As she watched the confirmation hearing on television, she said, "my mother sent me an email saying, 'I'm madly in love with Bruce right now.' She was so proud that he might sit on the court."
Instead, "it just seems they had their minds made up before the hearing began," Fife said. "It was just too political."
Before the hearing, Committee Chairman Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) , "he really hasn't done much as a lawyer in terms of what we're going to as him about."
"Usually the governor should be able to pick off another Democrat" to get a nominee passed the committee, Brown said, but in this case, "what the Dems did, it was just unprecedented."
"I think Bruce handled himself like a gentleman and a scholar, as he is," Fife said. "New Jersey would have benefited from Bruce's brilliance."
In the meantime, as the state Supreme Court operates with four justices instead of seven, "it's the courts that suffer," Brown said. "The judges that are there have to work harder, and there's less of a majority needed for things to pass."
Politically, though, Brown thinks Christie may end up with "brownie points for sticking up for his principles." By having two qualified, and minority, Republican candidates rejected by Democratic-led committee, Christie may have painted Democrats as, , "out of control" politicians.
"Make no mistake about it, Bruce Harris was rejected by the committee for political reasons rather than anything pertaining to his ability to do the job by a legislative majority that is drunk on power," Kean said.
In the meantime, Fife said, "It's a loss for the state of New Jersey."
Harris declined to comment for this article. Borough Attorney James Lott, who testified on Harris' behalf before the committee, did not respond to requests for comments.