TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A Senate panel rejected Gov. Chris Christie’s nominee to the New Jersey Supreme Court on Thursday.
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The Democratic panel voted 7-6 against Phillip Kwon, handing the Republican governor a rare defeat and causing Christie to declare the proceedings a “shameful mockery of a hearing.”
The governor said that the panel did not act in the best interest of New Jersey, leading him to charge “This was a circus, not a judicial hearing.”
Kwon, who is a Korean-American, would have been the first Asian-American to serve on the Supreme Court had he been confirmed.
Kwon was grilled through the day Thursday about his political affiliation and involvement in a lawsuit against the family’s liquor store. The 44-year-old faced questions about a New York liquor store owned by his mother and wife.
Kwon’s mother made 222 cash deposits from store proceeds just under the amount that would trigger federal reporting. The family forfeited $160,000 to settle civil charges.
Republicans on the panel called the hearing a “witch hunt” and “lynch mob.” Sen. Joseph Kyrillos of Monmouth County said he has rarely been so embarrassed as a senator.
But Democrats fought back, with Sen. Loretta Weinberg saying it is their job to question nominees to make sure they are qualified.
“We analyzed the nominee on his credentials and on his forthrightness,” said Sen. Nick Scutari, who chaired the Judiciary Committee hearing. “The members of my committee took this very seriously. We were very thorough.”
The former federal prosecutor who worked under Christie at the U.S. Attorney’s Office said he was unaware of his mother’s banking practices until someone at the bank notified her. Kwon testified that when he heard what she had been doing, he agreed the type of deposits she consistently made would “raise red flags.”
Democrats also raised questions about Kwon’s politics. He’s an independent but had been a Republican.
His political alliance was an issue because traditionally a political balance is maintained on the court with no more than four justices belonging to either party. Currently, two Democrats and two Republicans are on the court and there are two vacancies.
Gov. Christie said Democrats questioned Kwon’s “integrity without any basis.” Consideration of a second nominee, lawyer Bruce Harris, was postponed.
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