N.J. Court Will Hear Arguments in Menendez Recall Case

Posted April 28, 2010 at 11:32am

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that it will hear arguments in Sen. Bob Menendez’s (D-N.J.) appeal to halt a tea party effort to recall him from office.

According to court documents filed Tuesday, the state’s high court will hold a hearing on the case May 25.

In mid-March, a New Jersey appellate court ruled that an effort to recall Menendez could proceed under state law, although it stayed that decision pending expected appeals from Menendez and state officials, who are both defendants in the case.

Menendez — who has argued the recall would violate the U.S. Constitution, which does not provide for the recall of Senators — filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court earlier this month.

But in an April 22 letter, Attorney General Paula Dow informed the court that the state would not seek to overturn the ruling, echoing the appellate court’s decision that arguments about law’s constitutionality are not yet “ripe” for judicial review, meaning there is no pressing need for the court to review that specific conflict.

“The Appellate Division, recognizing the ‘grave and momentous consequences of invalidating’ New Jersey’s constitutional and statutory recall provisions, decided to ‘apply caution and restraint.’ … The State will not seek to overturn this exercise of judicial prudence and restraint,” Dow wrote.

Dow noted that the Committee to Recall Robert Menendez from the Office of U.S. Senator must collect 1.3 million signatures in a 320-day period to put a measure on a ballot.

The appellate court ruling stated that unless the recall committee is able to meet that requirement, there is no need to rule on whether the state’s recall statute violates the U.S. Constitution.

Court records included no indication as of Tuesday that the Office of Senate Legal Counsel had sought to enter the case, which could address whether voters can recall federal lawmakers.

The counsel’s office represents Senators and their aides in matters related to their official duties as well as the Senate itself.

The lawsuit centers on an effort to recall Menendez under a New Jersey law enacted in 1995 as part of the state’s constitution, allowing for the recall of any House or Senate lawmaker, or state or local official.

A group of state residents, backed by tea party activists, first filed a recall notice with the New Jersey secretary of state’s office in late 2009.

But the office rejected that application and a second version, stating that the U.S. Constitution does not include any provisions for the recall of Senate or House lawmakers, nor does any federal statute.

In its request to the New Jersey appellate court, the recall committee argued that the effort represented “‘core political speech,’ protected by the first Amendment” and should be allowed to proceed.