Legislator Says Unwritten Rule Open for Abuse, Must be Prohibited
TRENTON – At a news conference in the Statehouse today, Senator Ellen Karcher announced that she would introduce a measure which would prohibit the disgraced practice of senatorial courtesy, in which members of the Senate can stall nominations without any public discussion.
“This reform is about finally opening up the backroom door and making the business of the Senate more open, transparent and accountable. While I understand that the Senate’s duties to ‘advise and consent’ on gubernatorial nominees is an invaluable check, we cannot let those powers be abused,” said Senator Karcher, D-Monmouth and Mercer. “Senatorial courtesy is a relic whose time has long since passed, allowing individual lawmakers to hold nominees hostage in order to obtain favors from the Governor on legislation or Christmas Tree appropriations. Rather than provide thoughtful critique of the Governor’s choice for certain nominations, the system has devolved into an example of an anonymous set of backroom dealings, done in the dark away from public scrutiny.”
Senator Karcher’s bill would propose a Constitutional amendment, to be submitted to the general electorate as a ballot question, which would require the Senate to consider a gubernatorial nominee within 90 days after receiving it, unless the nominee has been disapproved in Committee. If the Senate is in recess at the time a nominee is submitted, it would be required to consider the nominee on the first day it reconvenes. If the Senate has not considered a nomination within 90 days, the nominee would be considered approved.
Senator Karcher’s proposal has generated early praise from citizens’ watchdog groups, including Citizens for the Public Good, an organization dedicated to promoting integrity in government at all levels.
“I applaud Senator Karcher for taking this strong stand against Senatorial Courtesy and introducing legislation to ban the practice,” said former Republican Senator Bill Schluter, R-Pennington, a co-chair of Citizens for the Public Good who sponsored similar legislation when he served in the Senate and attended yesterday’s news conference. “Hopefully, more Legislators, on both sides of the political aisle, see the light on this issue and work to end a destructive practice which allows one Senator, acting in secret, to hold the entire State hostage.”
Senator Karcher also announced that she’s proposing a change in the Senate rules which would accomplish the same thing, and that she’ll be working to pass both measures this Fall.
The measure, if approved by the Legislature and the voters, would effectively abolish senatorial courtesy in New Jersey, an unwritten rule which allows Senators from a nominee’s home county or legislative district to block a gubernatorial appointment without any further conversation.
“Ending Senatorial Courtesy is a huge change in the culture of Trenton. But ending this practice will not and should not change the balance of power between the Senate and the Chief Executive. I believe in a very vigorous advice and consent role for the Senate. But ending Senatorial Courtesy will give power back to the people who government is supposed to work for- the people of New Jersey. It seems to defy the idea of thoughtful legislative debate when one Senator can essentially blacklist a nominee without further discussion and without any public accountability,” said Senator Karcher. “This sort of abuse of the Senate’s responsibilities must come to an end.”
Senator Karcher noted that banning Senatorial Courtesy is a vital part of her agenda to change the status quo in Trenton, and promote a more ethical culture in the State Legislature. Since being elected, she has fought to reign in pay-to-play and dual office holding, among other Trenton traditions which erode the public’s faith in government.
“I know this is not going to be an easy fight,” said Senator Karcher. “We’re asking the members of the Legislature, who’ve benefited from the status quo, to give up a measure of individual power to restore transparency and accountability to the nomination process. It won’t be easy, but we’ve been down this road before with other reform measures, and we’ve been able to change the culture of corruption and complacency which for too long has been a hallmark of life in the State Capital.”