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NJ Supreme Court Rejects Recall Of Sen. Menendez

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Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) holds a news conference - Washington, DC - Aug 5, 2009 - Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Sen. Robert Menendez (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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TRENTON, NJ (AP) - A tea-party group’s effort to recall U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez was thwarted by the New Jersey Supreme Court on Thursday, when the court ruled that a recall is not allowed by the U.S. Constitution.

RoseAnn Salanitri, an organizer of the effort to recall the Democrat, said she plans to appeal Thursday’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. A victory for her there, she said, could aid other fledgling movements to recall senators nationwide.

But in a 4-2 ruling Thursday, New Jersey’s top court said the U.S. Constitution doesn’t allow for senators to be recalled, even though the state’s constitution does.

“The historical record leads to but one conclusion: the Framers rejected a recall provision and denied the states the power to recall U.S. Senators,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote in the majority opinion.

The group seeking to recall Menendez says their problem with him is simple: They disagree with his liberal views, including his support for the health insurance overhaul passed by Congress this year. He hasn’t been embroiled in any particular scandals, or voted differently than he said he was when he was elected in 2006.

“The New Jersey Supreme Court today ruled that this fringe effort to recall a leader in the fight against special interests is definitively unconstitutional,” Menendez spokesman Afshin Mohamadi said in a written statement Thursday. “It is a resounding victory against the tea party’s Washington-based right-wing corporate backers, who are waging economic war on the middle class.”

Menendez will be up for re-election in November 2012.

Even if the recall effort would have been allowed by the court, it would have been cumbersome to get a recall on the ballot. Under New Jersey law, it would have taken about 1.3 million signatures to get the effort to a ballot.

The Constitution itself is silent on the issue of recalls.

The federal Constitution wins when there are conflicts between it and state constitutions. But when powers aren’t enumerated in the federal document, they belong to states.

The dispute here is over whether the right to recall senators is to be handled by the states, or whether it’s barred under the federal constitution.

Opponents of the recall effort say that means that the language that senators serve six-year terms is the final word on the matter.

But the Committee to Recall Robert Menendez argues that means it’s up to states to decide whether recalls are permissible. And in a 1993 amendment, a procedure for recalling elected officials was added to the state constitution.

The court on Thursday found that the portion of that amendment that pertains to federal officers cannot be enforced.

“The judges struck down our New Jersey constitution, and our Legislature’s will and the will of the people as well as George Washington,” said Salanitri. Her group relied in its briefs and oral arguments partly on a letter in which the first president wrote that he supported the recall idea.

Two New Jersey justices, Roberto Rivera-Soto and Helen Hoens, also were upset that their colleagues didn’t give enough credence to the state constitution.

“In concluding that the people are powerless to recall him, the majority ignores those clear and fundamental constitutional principles and does so when the matters that are central to this dispute overwhelmingly demand caution rather than a rush to judgment,” they wrote in a dissenting opinion.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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