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.