Yesterday, the New Jersey Senate voted to recognize same-sex marriage. Indications are that the Assembly (the lower house) will do likewise. Meanwhile, an equal-protection lawsuit is working its way through the New Jersey courts; it would be mooted by this legislation.
Governor Christie has vowed to veto the measure–no surprise. But his professed reason means he is either dishonest or constitutionally ignorant.
Christie says he’ll veto the bill because so important a matter should be subjected to popular vote.
In the United States, we don’t get to vote on other people’s rights. The whole reason for the Bill of Rights was to protect minorities–not just members of different races or religions but people with unpopular ideas or different ‘lifestyles’–from unequal treatment by the government even when a majority of citizens wanted government to treat those minorities unequally. The Bill of Rights is what we call a “counter-majoritarian” instrument; it protects our individual rights against the passions and prejudices of the majority.
Perhaps Governor Christie should consult the famous explanation by Justice Jackson in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnett.
The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials, and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.
(Of course, in a consistent world, this principle would also apply to state legislatures. No one would get to vote on whether another citizen was entitled to equal rights. But in case it has escaped notice, this is not a consistent world. In any event, as my mother used to say, two wrongs don’t make a right.)
I don’t get to vote on the Governor’s rights, and he doesn’t get to vote on mine. If the legislature doesn’t override his threatened veto, the courts eventually will. That’s not “judicial activism.” It’s application of a bedrock constitutional principle.