The Long View 2002-10-03: Jersey Joke

Here is a bit on local Jersey politics and election law. Reproduced for completeness.

Jersey Joke

 

I have never been good with off-the-cuff witticisms, but I am rather proud of this exchange from many years back:

 

Tactful New Yorker: "If you don't mind my asking, are people who live in New Jersey sensitive about Jersey jokes?

 

Lifelong New Jersey Resident: "If we were sensitive, we would live somewhere else."

 

These words pretty much sum up my reaction to Senator Bob Torricelli's cringe-making speech on Monday evening, in which he announced he was withdrawing from the race for the US Senate. Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton both had their strengths, all of which Torricelli lacks. However, in that speech he managed to combine Nixon's paranoid self-pity with Clinton's weepy refusal to ever admit that his bad luck is his own fault. The result was Tony Soprano without the integrity.

The Senator made no apology for having disgraced his office. He alluded to the charges against him of gross, old-fashioned corruption only by asking how the word of someone with no credibility (the fellow in jail who says he bought the Senator little luxuries) could bring down someone with Torricelli's hard-earned reputation. Does the man really have no idea what his reputation was?

Clintonism drips from the the affair like the slimy protoplasm in Ghostbusters. It has been clear for some time that Torricelli was not going to jail on the current batch of charges; his folly of seeking and winning the Democratic nomination for reelection was based on the assumption his constituents did not follow events in Washington closely enough to notice his reprimand by the Senate. His decision to back out now, weeks after the statutory deadline, continues the new Democratic pattern of testing the legal system to the breaking point.

The statutes do allow a party to change candidates, if they do it by a little under two months before election day. There are also mechanisms for handling the death or resignation on an incumbent. What they do not contemplate is a situation like this. Torricelli saw that he had no more chance of being reelected than did Hannibal Lector, so he withdrew in favor of a stronger standard-bearer for his party. To allow him to do that would fundamentally corrupt the electoral system. The poll that counts should be the one on election day.

The New Jersey Supreme Court saw it otherwise. That Court has long been a strange institution. Beloved of leftist activists, it has displayed an uncanny knack for always reaching the progressive conclusion in ways untainted by legal principle. In this case, the justices remained true to form. Noting that the statutes do not absolutely forbid a change on the ballot later than the statutory deadline, the Court invoked its equitable power to allow the Democrats to substitute the ex-Senator Frank Lautenberg, whose chief merit is lack of infamy. The justices said they did this so that voters would have a "choice." To put it another way, the voters will be made to choose again, because they seemed to be making the wrong choice the first time. Democracy is fine within limits, but the control of the US Senate could turn on who is the next senator from New Jersey.

Coup calls forth counter-coup, or at least the appearance thereof. The Republicans announced that they would immediately file suits in the federal courts, including a direct application to the US Supreme Court. From what I gather, the chief argument would be that people who have already mailed in absentee ballots, particularly members of the armed forces, would be disenfranchised if the ballot were altered at this late date. It is possible, though not likely, that we may be about to see a Mid-Atlantic reenactment of the Bush v. Gore case. It would be a grave error for the Republicans to take it that far. In reality, the outrageous behavior of the Florida Supreme Court left the US Supreme Court little choice in the presidential election of 2000, but both the Court and the Bush Administration bled legitimacy afterward. Neither this Senate seat, nor even the control of the Senate, is worth starting that dynamic again.

Incidentally, remember how every legal commentator in the country assured us after Bush v. Gore came down that the case would be limited to its facts, and so had no real precedential value? Making dubious law to further your immediate interests is like making a wish on the Monkey's Paw: the result is never what you expect, and every new wish makes the situation worse.

Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly

 


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