Last January, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) nominated openly gay attorney Bruce Harris to a seat on that state’s supreme court. According to the Star-Ledger, however, Harris is not expected to clear the state’s senate judiciary committee, which will hold a hearing on him today, due to both his lack of litigation experience and concerns over his overwillingness to recuse himself from cases:
Harris, a graduate of Yale Law School, is a transactional attorney at the international law firm Greenberg Traurig. . . . The sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter, said Harris’ lack of courtroom experience was indeed a sticking point for committee’s eight Democrats. . . .
State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) said he remained opposed to the nomination because Harris has said that if approved, he would recuse himself from cases involving gay rights.
Christie has said Harris planned to recuse himself because in the past he had advocated for gay rights.
But Lesniak and other critics said a blanket recusal was unnecessary, and that most likely was a concession to Christie, who opposes same-sex marriage. A lawsuit brought by seven gay couples seeking the right to marry is pending in a lower court and is expected to make its way to the Supreme Court in a couple years.
Harris’ lack of experience is a legitimate concern. While transactional work can certainly be very challenging, it bears little resemblance to litigation, so it’s not clear how Harris is prepared to decide some of the most important cases that arise in his state.
His promise to recuse from gay rights cases, however, is far more troubling. An openly gay judge is no more required to recuse himself from gay rights cases than Clarence Thomas is required to recuse himself from race cases because he is black or Ruth Bader Ginsburg is required to recuse herself from gender discrimination cases because she is a woman. If Harris becomes a judge on the back of a promise to remove himself from gay issues because he is gay, he will set a dangerous precedent that anti-gay groups will cite every time another LGBT judicial nominee is named. Gay judges are not second class judges, and it is a grave mistake for them to behave like they are.