On September 8th, U.S. District Court Judge Garrett E. Brown Jr. will hear arguments in a case that was filed on August 16th by two Princeton attorneys to force a special election in November. The legal theory being pursued by the plaintiffs is that, by announcing on August 12th his inability to effectively govern, Jim McGreevey essentially created a vacancy as of that date, and that by remaining in office through November 15th, he is preventing a special election and thereby depriving New Jersey citizens of their constitutional rights, including the right of due process.
Presumably the attorneys chose this particular argument, because they guessed (correctly, as it turns out) that the hearing would not take place until after the September 3rd deadline for requiring a special election.
The Princeton attorneys argue that, because the governor made his announcement well before the September 3rd deadline (and, as noted, effectively created a vacancy at that time), the court should, as the New Jersey State Supreme Court did in the Torricelli case, ignore the state-imposed deadline in order to preserve the citizensâ€™ right to vote for the candidate of their choice.
I donâ€™t pretend to know any more about the specifics of the lawsuit other than what I have read in the newspapers. Having said that, it seems to me that the Princeton attorneys have a bit of an uphill climb. It would appear that there are more than a couple ways to distinguish the Torricelli case from the present situation created by the governorâ€™s resignation, not the least of which is that this case implicates the New Jersey State Constitution, rather than just state election laws and regulations, which were at issue in the Torricelli debacle.
Article V, Section 1.6 of the New Jersey Constitution provides, in pertinent part:
In the event of a vacancy in the office of Governor resulting from the death, resignation or removal of a Governor in office, â€¦ the functions, powers, duties and emoluments of the office shall devolve upon the President of the Senate, for the time beingâ€¦
Article V, Section 1.9 of the New Jersey Constitution provides, again, in pertinent part:
In the event of a vacancy in the office of Governor, a Governor shall be elected to fill the unexpired term at the general election next succeeding the vacancy, unless the vacancy shall occur within sixty days immediately preceeding [sic] a general election, in which case he shall be elected at the second succeeding general electionâ€¦
So, like it or not (I donâ€™t), the New Jersey Constitution provides a scheme for succession in these cases (including the sixty day pre-election time limit) and does not provide for â€œeffective vacanciesâ€ as is being urged by the attorneys for the plaintiffs.
I just donâ€™t see the judge fooling around with the plain language of the New Jersey State Constitution.
As such, I figure that, unless Jim McGreevey leaves office before September 3rd, we can forget about actually having a say in who occupies the governorâ€™s office from November 15th through the next election in November 2005.