Using Senate courtesy once carried more risk than it does today

The use of senatorial comity, which has existed since 1844, carries some political risk, but not as much as in an era when older print media covered the New Jersey Legislative Assembly more forcefully.

In 1988, Republican Governor Thomas Kean appointed George E. Norcross to the New Jersey State Racing Commission. Norcross was the president of the AFL-CIO of Southern New Jersey.

State Sen. Lee Laskin (R-Cherry Hill) used senatorial courtesy to block Norcross from being confirmed by the state senate.

His son, George E. Norcross III, became Democratic chairman of Camden County in 1989, enabling the family to exact revenge on Laskin.

Voters’ anger over Gov. Jim Florio’s $2.8 billion tax hike made 1991 the most lopsided Republican landslide since 1920, when Warren Harding’s tailgates led Republicans from the Assembly to win 39 of the 40 seats in the lower house.

Republicans won ten Senate seats, winning in unlikely places.

But in the suburban 6th arrondissement where Laskin was seeking re-election to a fifth term, the results became aberrant.

Democrats spent nearly $2 million on the race — a record amount for a state Senate race at the time. George Norcross III guaranteed a $250,000 loan for the effort.

Laskin was ravaged by Philadelphia Network television commercials that attacked his ethics. The ads ran during an Eagles game on Monday Night Football and during Game 7 of the World Series.

Democrat John Adler (D-Cherry Hill) defeated Laskin by 6,098 votes, 55%-45%. Republican Assemblyman John Rocco (D-Cherry Hill) and his running mate, Camden County Freeholder Lee Solomon (R-Haddon Heights) — now Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey — won more than 7,000 votes

State Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Demarest), who over time has become a master of senatorial courtesy, nearly lost his bid for re-election to a second term in 1983 after blocking the renomination of a judge of sitting state appeals court Sylvia Pressler.

Cardinale was no fan of Pressler, the first woman to serve in the Appellate Division and a judge in a case that opened up little league baseball to girls. He accused her of ordering the release of patients from a public psychiatric hospital against the advice of doctors and of upholding a relatively short two-month prison sentence for a man who had raped his daughter-in-law. 13 years.

Lawyers, women’s groups and The (Bergen) Record hammered Cardinale.

Kean’s chief attorney, Cary Edwards, said Cardinale told him the real reason he was blocking Pressler was because she had been a judge in cases he was personally involved in and he didn’t didn’t like. Cardinale later denied this. (The affair caused a deep rift between Cardinale and Edwards, who had served together as Republican congressmen for Bergen County. In 1989, they faced off in the GOP gubernatorial primary.)

Eventually, Senate Speaker Carmen Orechio (D-Nutley) decided Cardinale was in conflict with Pressler’s nomination and effectively waived courtesy on her nomination. Had Orechio not stepped in, Pressler would have come off the bench because there is no rest in the court system.

Cardinale, who would serve nearly 40 years in the Senate, won his second term with just 51% of the vote.

When the Senate voted on Pressler in December, her nomination was approved, 29-2, with only Cardinale and State Sen. Louis Bassano (R-Union) voting against her. Edwards’ former running mate, State Sen. Garret Hagedorn (R-Midland Park), voted to confirm Pressler.

In 1993, Senate Majority Leader John Dorsey (R-Boonton) was defeated for reelection in part because of his decision to use Senate courtesy to block the reappointment of Superior Court Justice Marianne Espinosa Murphy. . At the time, she was the wife of former Morris County prosecutor and gubernatorial candidate Michael Murphy.

Acting Attorney General Fred DeVesa and Espinosa Murphy have filed a lawsuit against Dorsey and Senate Republicans seeking an end to Senate comity, one of many that have been filed over the years without success.

The Superior Court judge who presided over the case, Philip Carchman, lambasted the practice but refused to declare it unconstitutional because he lacked jurisdiction.

“The exercise of senatorial comity in this context undermines the people’s right to open government and the independence of the judiciary,” Carchman wrote at the time. “The doctrine of senatorial comity serves no public purpose.”

Senate Speaker Donald DiFrancesco (R-Scotch Plains) was no fan of Dorsey – the two had faced off in a fierce leadership contest after Republicans took control of the Senate in 1991 – and ended by altering the unwritten rules of senatorial courtesy to prevent its use. when a sitting judge is to be reappointed.

Dorsey had other political troubles, but his use of courtesy against Espinosa Murphy contributed to his loss of a solidly Republican Senate seat in 1993. Former Assemblyman Gordon MacInnes ousted him by 355 voice.

Martin E. Berry