New Jersey Supreme Court Rules State Can’t Require Judges to Pay More Into Their Pensions

The Supreme Court in New Jersey today overturned a portion of Governor Chris Christie’s pension and health benefits reforms, known as Chapter 78, that were signed into law last year. From the Star Ledger:

The 3-2 decision said the new law… is unconstitutional as it applies to Superior Court judges and Supreme Court justices already on the bench by June 28, 2011, because it violates the terms of the state Constitution that guarantees no salary cut for sitting jurists. The provision was included to ensure they could not be punished by members of the other two branches of government for unpopular decisions. The challenge to the law was brought by  Superior Court Judge Paul DePascale, whose attorney said “today’s ruling will continue to protect the judges and justices of this state from intimidation, undue influence or domination so that they can adjudicate each case fairly and independently as the law and facts require.”

The reform law, which passed with bipartisan support, was not of course put in place to intimidate or influence state judges, but control ballooning deficits; the law applied to most state employees, and not judges specifically. The majority pointed out that the State Constitution (ratified in 1947) used the word “salary” and “compensation” interchangeably while the dissenting justices asserted health and pension benefits shouldn’t be considered part of their salaries.

The chief justice, Stuart Rabner, recused himself from the case. When he was Jon Corzine’s attorney general in 2007 he wrote a memo that warned of a court challenge that could come as a result of pension reforms.  

More Reason on public unions.

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  • CampingInYourPark||

    Who gives a fuck

  • Drake||

    People like me - stuck in NJ for professional reasons.

  • ||

    CampingInYourPark was not responding to the article he was responding to a comment that got deleted.

  • ||

    You'd be an asshole too if you were that ugly.

    You suck at insults.

    Let me show you how it is done:

    Post modern irony haircut, art house track lighting, purple couch, eyes down and to the left with mirthful smile....

    John....when did you become a hipster?

  • ||

    You don't know John.

  • ||

    Ah shucks it got deleted...may as well delete mine as well now that it doesn't make any sense.

  • Ted S.||

    I don't see John's comment. Did the reason moderators disappear it or something?

  • ||

    John never commented.

    Mary posted a link to some guy's facebook page and claimed it was john then called him angry and ugly.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    John? Angry? I didn't realize MNG was back.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Kind of a no-brainer, ya think?

  • Suki||

    Now another court is telling us that a payment to government is actually a reduction in income. Bask in the glow.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    There should be no public pensions. And I advise against private employer pension benefits as well. Maximize your take home and pay for your own shit.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Yep.

  • Drake||

    2nd the motion.

  • SIV||

    I'm surprised Judges haven't already made it entirely clear they are above the law.

  • Suki||

    That is part of the mystique.

  • ||

    ruling sounds correct on its face, even if a regrettable result. process analysis: it's what's for dinner

  • Whahappan?||

    Yeah, much as I disagree with Dunphy on many things, I have to agree with him here. Don't hate the playa, hate the game.

  • Rasilio||

    Actually while they may have ruled correctly with regard to the law I would argue that THIS ruling is wholly invalid because the State Supreme Court justices themselves stood to personally benefit from the outcome of the ruling and ergo they should all have recused themselves.

    This does put it into kind of a catch 22 with there not being a compentent court with jurisdiction to make the ruling but unless there is some other law preventing it from happening perhaps they could have asked either a Federal court or possibly a Court from another State to step in and adjudicate the issue for them.

  • Bardas Phocas||

    What does the 8-ball say?

  • ||

    The state should appeal on those grounds.

  • Adam330||

    Man, I'd love to be able to rule on whether my employer can cut my pay.

  • Rasilio||

    Get a job as a cop or a teacher, those guys do it all the time.

  • ||

    Weren't these the same judges that got in a real cat fight and then a legal cat fight not to long ago?

  • Jerry on the road||

    Why can't they just reduce benefits?

  • Juice||

    It's unconstitutional to cut their pay.

  • Jerry on the road||

    So apparently when New Jersey decides to raise income tax rates, it won't apply to judges either?

  • Registration At Last!||

    Right result.
    No-brainer.
    Amend the state constitution if you don't like it.
    (Seems like that's the go-to option these days, anyway.)

  • ant1sthenes||

    This is possibly the least surprising story I've ever read.

  • ||

    "New Michael Bay movie is terrible, say critics..."

  • Juice||

    The first link is totally blaarrgghed.

  • cw||

    I actually agree with the majority on this case. This is a separation of powers issue, and was therefore rightly determined.

  • Alex the wolf||

    They should´ve recused themselves all. How could they judge something that affects them directly?

  • John Thacker||

    Benefits are part of compensation. If the NJ Constitution uses both pay and compensation interchangeably, seems like the right decision, regardless of what I think about the policy.

  • R C Dean||

    I dunno. Depends on how it works in NJ. If contributions are mandatory, then increasing contributions cuts their take-home pay. I doubt the Constitution specifies take-home pay, though. So this probably didn't affect their gross pay or their pension benefits, but shifted the balance between them: gross pay is the same, pensions the same. Where's the cut, exactly?

  • CE||

    Salary is paid now. Pensions are promised to be paid later. They might never get paid out, or might decline in present value.

  • CE||

    Salary is paid now. Pensions are promised to be paid later. They might never get paid out, or might decline in present value.

  • CE||

    i'm sure i didn't post twice

  • R C Dean||

    Salary is paid now.

    Indeed. And pension contributions ar taken out of gross salary, which was not cut.

    Where's the pay cut here, unless they have created a constitutional right to not have their take-home pay cut?

    If their take-home pay can't be cut, then haven't they just exempted themselves from any income tax increases, too?

  • R C Dean||

    If they are saying their take-home pay can't be cut, then I don't see how the state can increase any income taxes, either.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    It just has to simultaneously raise their salaries enough to counteract the tax.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    When he was Jon Corzine’s attorney general in 2007 he wrote a memo that warned of a court challenge that could come as a result of pension reforms.

    Wait, you're telling me that working on a piece of legislation while in the administration is grounds for recusal when it comes before you in court?

  • ||

    The Rabners are good friends with my family. It's good to see Stuart knows how to recuse himself.

  • CE||

    Sounds like a pretty clear-cut case. I'm surprised the vote wasn't 5-0. If the law says you can't cut judges' pay, and you try to pass a law forcing them to contribute more to their pensions, you've cut their pay.

    Politicians will have to learn to stop agreeing to ridiculous pay and benefits packages for state employees doing jobs people don't need done. State employees will have to learn that deals that can't be renegotiated can always be defaulted on.

  • R C Dean||

    Their gross pay wasn't cut. This is the functional equivalent of a tax increase. Distinguish between a mandatory contribution to a state pension and SocSec taxes.

  • GILMORE||

    Well, at least there was no conflict-of-interest or anything.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    The 3-2 decision said the new law… is unconstitutional as it applies to Superior Court judges and Supreme Court justices already on the bench by June 28, 2011, because it violates the terms of the state Constitution that guarantees no salary cut for sitting jurists.

    The obvious solution is to fire all of em and start over.

  • Drake||

    Christie is in the process of doing just that. NJ Justices serve 7 year terms. In the past, Governors have always reappointed people at the end of their terms.

    The ruling was 3-2 because there are currently 2 vacancies. Christie shocked everyone when he refused to reappoint a particularly shitty justice last year (Justice John Wallace Jr.). Now the Legislature won't approve a replacement.

  • zaphod||

    Did anyone esle notice the irony that the plaintiff's last name is de Pa(y)scale?

  • free2booze||

    It's a tax, even if the NJ legislature didn't call it a tax. In the immortal words of the royal Chief Justice John Roberts "It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices."

  • RPR2||

    It was a trap! they should all still be impeached for not recusing themselves.

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