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Archive for the ‘Supreme Court’ Category

It’s that time of the year again. The New Jersey Press Association presents the Legislative Correspondent’s Club annual show.

Basically, the state’s  ( now dwindling ) press corps performs a series of skits and songs that mock the political and media elite of the Garden State. It is often quite funny replete with costumes, wigs and other flamboyant accessories that would make even Elton John blush.

As for my role…well, I am El Presidente this year. That means I don’t actually have to sing ( which is not my strong suit ). I have to deliver the introductory speech which is supposed to be funny and slightly mean spirited. Well, I don’t know how funny it shall be, although I’m working on it. It will most certainly be biting, and of course familiar.

Then of course, after the show is over, people get to stand around and hang out in a cocktail party-type atmosphere which is even more fun. And the whole evening is off the record. So, if you are remotely interested, I urge you to purchase tickets. Proceeds go to charity.

Contact Peg Stephan 609-406-0600 ext. 14. or pastephan@njpa.org

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If a bill legalizing gay marriage dies, and it appears very likely that it will, the issue could once again go to the courts.

In 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in the case Lewis v. Harris that same sex couples are entitled to equal protection under the law.  Later that same year, New Jersey passed a law establishing civil unions. But a commission created by that law to study it concluded that civil unions are inadequate, and marriage is the only remedy. Even critics have acknowledged that the civil union law may not go far enough. Democratic Senator Ron Rice for example is opposed gay marriage, but has expressed a willingness to fix the current civil union law.

Five Republican Senators led by Minority Leader Tom Kean have vowed to do the same. But the fundamental question remains…can the law be nuanced enough to ensure full equality under the law?

“You can get close, but you’ll never have full equality” says Allen Etish, President of the NJ State Bar Association. Until a partner is called a “spouse” there is just no way to ensure that hospitals, health and life insurance companies will catch up to the idea that civil union partners deserve the same rights and benefits. Any other kind of partnership “just doesn’t cut it.”

So what does that mean? Well, you have what sounds like a sincere belief within the legislature that the current law needs to be fixed. How high making that change will be on the list of priorities when the state can barely pay its bills is a whole other question. Something tells me not very high.

Which brings us back to the court. Another test case would have to wind its way through the system to once again reach the SCONJ. At that point justices will rule on the constitutionality of the current civil union law. That could take a year, or it could take three. Either way I can already hear the critics who will decry the court’s “legislating from the bench.”

A lawyer I am not. But it seems pretty clear that the legislature has been given more than enough opportunities to make this right. Let’s see if they act.

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The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the state’s school funding formula.

For me, this was quite interesting since I have never seen a case argued before the SCONJ, and Attorney General Anne Milgram argued the case herself for the state. This indicates to me that the administration not only has tremendous faith in the weight of their argument, but they also desperately need and want to win here.

Since 1973, in one form or another the state’s school funding levels have been manipulated by the courts. In what have come to be known as the Abbott Districts, which are the 31 neediest, the court mandates how much needs to be spent based on a formula.

Obviously, this has become problematic for the administration particularly in these tough fiscal times. So, last year the legislature passed and the Governor signed the School Funding Reform Act or SFRA.

Under the previous Abbott formula, the state argues that 55% of the resources were going to 32% of the students. That needs to be changed to give the money out based on need and not an outmoded model. Moreover, the state wants the legislative and executive branches determining education policy – not the courts.

But David Sciarra of the Education Law Center said the new formula was already tried this year and it was a failure. He says yopu can’t take money away from the 31 neediest and redistribute it to others that might also be needy.

But the Justices did not appear to be buying it. They essentially told him that efficiencies need to be found within the districts and that there are a finite amount of resources to go around.

“The state purse is not unlimited,” said Associate Justice Barry Albin.

Curious to see how this will play out. If the court rules in favor of the administration, it will be a  sea change in how New Jersey funds it’s public schools and it will give the government far more leeway in determining what is fair and equitable.

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