The New Jersey Supreme Court will evaluate the legality of a mid-October special election to fill the state’s vacant U.S. Senate seat. Gov. Chris Christie (R) scheduled the special election to replace Senator Frank Lautenberg (D), who was the oldest member of the Senate when he died in early June with over a year left in his term.
Christie, who is himself up for re-election in November, drew ire from Republicans and Democrats alike when it was announced that Lautenberg’s replacement would be chosen in a special election Oct 16, rather than on the regularly scheduled November ballot. The special election will cost the state an estimated $12 million to run, officials say, and critics accuse Christie of timing it to his own political advantage at the expense of taxpayers.
Putting a Senate race on the November ballot might overshadow Christie’s own re-election bid; it would also likely draw additional Democratic voters, which could jeopardize the governor’s currently comfortable lead over opponent Barbara Buono (D). A landslide gubernatorial win would help Christie with his presidential ambitions, should he decide to run in 2016.
Six candidates have successfully filed petitions to enter the Senate race to finish Lautenberg’s term, with Newark mayor Cory Booker (D) emerging as the frontrunner in early polls. Christie may also specifically want to avoid appearing on the same ballot as Booker, who, like Christie, enjoys a high profile in the national media.
After a lower court found Christie’s scheduling decision legal, the challenge, filed by state Democrats, is now headed to the N.J. Supreme Court, who will determine whether the governor is acting within his authority.
Lautenberg’s seat is temporarily being filled by former state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, whom Christie appointed until voters could elect a replacement. Christie has argued that the special election is a preferable alternative to waiting for Lautenberg’s term to expire in early 2015, and that speeding up the process will mean more time for New Jersey to be represented by a Senator of its people’s election, rather than by Christie’s Republican appointee.
It has not yet been announced when the Court will make its decision.
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The writer is from New Jersey.