Lesniak Floor Remarks On Judicial Pension Bill

Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, D-Union, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, speaks in favor of a bill which would authorize the Legislature to set Judicial pension contribution rates in order to preserve the fiscal integrity of the pension fund.

Says Measure Would Ensure Pension Solvency, Would Not Affect Independence of Judiciary

TRENTON – State Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, D-Union, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued the following floor remarks in support of a measure which would post a ballot question to the electorate to give the Legislature the authority to legislate judicial pension contributions:

“I’ve sponsored three amendments to the NJ Constitution during my time in the Legislature. As an Assemblyman, I sponsored a change in the riparian rights section of our Constitution. That amendment was not adopted by the voters. As a senator, I co-sponsored with Senator Lance a limit on borrowing without voter approval. That amendment was approved by our voters. And just last year, I sponsored the sports betting amendment that was overwhelmingly approved by our voters as well. I guess I could say Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad.

“A constitution is a living document meant to be amended from time to time, as things change over time. In 1947 there was no Internet, no Osama Bin Ladin, no 40 caliber Glock handgun or AR-15 assault rifle, and no one ever thought the Brooklyn Dodgers would leave for LA or that Lady Gaga would wow audiences of all ages. Times change and, from time to time, constitutions have to change as well.

“Constitutions don’t always get it right either. Michelle Bachman’s beliefs to the contrary, it took nearly 100 years and a civil war to amend the US Constitution to end slavery in America.

“Our judiciary has been and continues to be a proud example of the best of New Jersey and a example for other states to follow. More than 20 years before the precedent-setting United States Supreme Court’s decision in Marbury v. Madison, the New Jersey Supreme Court in Holmes v. Walton, held that the Court could declare a legislative law unconstitutional. Thank God for us all.

“Our judiciary has also made law – yes, made law – when the legislative and executive branches of government failed to guarantee the constitutional rights of the residents of the State of New Jersey.

“In Jackman v. The State of New Jersey, our Supreme Court gave every person the same vote when electing their legislative representatives.

“In Clover Hill Swimming Club, Inc. v. Robert F. Goldsboro and Division on Civil Rights, our Supreme Court ruled that African Americans could not be barred from membership in private clubs.

“In Dale v. Boy Scouts of America, our Supreme Court declared that the Boy Scouts of America could not bar gay boys from its membership. That decision was unfortunately overturned by the United States Supreme Court.

“That US Supreme Court decision proves courts don’t always get it right. Imagine, Sally Ride, the first female astronaut in space, could have been barred from membership in the Girls Scouts of America because she’s gay.

“In Abbott v. Burke, our Supreme Court declared that every child in New Jersey, regardless of where they live, has an opportunity for a thorough and efficient education.

“In the Mount Laurel cases, our Supreme Court ended exclusionary zoning, a tool which was used to perpetuate segregation in our state.

“In Ponter v. Ponter, a case that I brought as a legal services attorney, our courts ended the requirement that a woman obtain her husband’s consent before getting a sterilization operation.

“I am proud of the shining history of our judiciary and value the importance in a democratic society of a judiciary free from political influence, a cornerstone of our democracy and of the greatness of our state and of the United States of America. Without an independent judiciary, we would be a democracy in name only.

“Our democracy, as protected by our constitution, gives the legislature the ability, with the approval of our voters, to amend our constitution as we evolve as human beings and as a society. Over the past decade and more, our legislatures and governors have allowed our pension and health benefits funds to be grossly underfunded, threatening the most precious of benefits earned by working men and women of our state and putting a great strain on our taxpayers.

“Amending our constitution to make judges pay more will not threaten the independence of our judiciary, as long as we do not use it as a bat to strike at judicial decisions with which we disagree. Although that will be a possibility when this constitutional amendment is adopted, I believe the potential for that is minimal and will not be abused.

“Not re-appointing Supreme Court and superior court judges for political reasons threatens the independence of our judiciary. This amendment will not.

“The threat to the independence of our judiciary by SCR-110 is minimal, while the threat to the solvency of the judicial pension and health benefits fund is great. SCR-110 will lessen that threat. I vote yes.”

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