Rachel Maddow: An Alternate Theory of the Christie Scandal

Yesterday at his press conference, Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie shot down the theory that the George Washington Bridge lane closures were political retribution for Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich's failure to endorse Christie in his reelection bid. That was the only proffered theory for why Christie's now-fired deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly had sent an email last August to the Port Authority reading, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." Even given Christie's proclivities toward bullying, it was a pretty weak explanation for a decision to majorly fuck the people of Fort Lee. So, maybe it was something else?

On her show last night, Rachel Maddow put forth an alternative theory of what motivated the Washington Bridge lane closures, and it's very compelling stuff.

The full transcript will be here, when it's made available. In the meantime, it would take me all day to transcribe 17 minutes, so, care of Steve Benen, here is a summary of the details of the alternate theory, which is laid out in the last six minutes of the above video segment:
In New Jersey, state Supreme Court justices serve an initial term of seven years, at which point the sitting governor decides whether or not to reappoint them. Since the New Jersey constitution was revised and adopted in 1947, every governor has reappointed every state Supreme Court justice without exception.

That is, until Christie took office. In 2010, soon after Christie's inauguration, he did something unprecedented: he declined to reappoint one of the justices: New Jersey Supreme Court Justice John Wallace, the court's only African-American member. Wallace was not burdened by scandal or allegations of wrongdoing; Christie simply didn't want him on the high court anymore.

Democrats in the state Senate were livid. Rachel described the political firestorm that soon erupted in Trenton:
Senate Democrats made Chris Christie's first nominee to replace Justice Wallace, they made her wait until somebody else's seat came up on the court then they would consider her for that one, but not Justice Wallace's.

Then, Chris Christie nominated a man named Phil [Kwon] for the state Supreme Court, Senate Democrats said no. Then, Chris Christie nominated a man named Bruce Harris for the court, Senate Democrats said no.

Senate Democrats were so mad about what Christie did to take John Harris off the Supreme Court when he was up for re-nomination that they would not let anyone through. It's been a big political crisis in New Jersey. Senate Democrats rejected every one of those Christie nominees, one after the other.

And then when another of the justices on the Supreme Court, a Republican, came up for re-nomination just like John Harris had, and the Senate Democrats signaled that they were going to give her a whale of a time at her re-nomination hearing, Chris Christie just flipped out. He had enough. He pulled that justice off the Supreme Court rather than submit her to re-nomination before the Senate Democrats.
No governor had ever failed to reappoint a sitting state Supreme Court justice, but Christie had suddenly done it twice – once for the court's only African-American jurist, infuriating Democrats, and then again for a justice he actually liked. The governor, enraged, held a press conference to tell reporters, "I was not going to let her loose to the animals."

The "animals," in this case, were the Democrats in the state Senate.

Christie said that on the afternoon of Aug. 12, 2013.

On the morning of Aug. 13, 2013, Christie's deputy chief of staff told the governor's guy at the Port Authority, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

The leader of the Senate Democrats at the time was a senator from … Fort Lee.
The Republican judge who came up for renomination was just not any judge. She was married to a key member of Christie's administration. It wasn't just political; it was personal.

I hope some enterprising journalists in New Jersey will ask the governor about this today.

[H/T to Alison.]

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