By Matt Rooney
Checks and balances are a critical component of the American system, Save Jerseyans. This greatest-of-all-nations was formed precisely because we were tired of kings. We refused to be ruled by one in 1776. We’ve endeavored to avoid that fate over the ensuing centuries, but the creeping power of the executive, the degrading quality of legislators, the complexities of the modern world, and the natural tendency towards centralization remain ever-present obstacles.
Here in New Jersey, our governor is already one of the nation’s strongest by design even in pandemic-free times. Coronavirus is no excuse for New Jersey’s legislature to shirk its responsibility to advocate for the people and our rights especially when our civil liberties are in a moment of maximum danger.
In fact, a silver-lining of this pandemic should be legislative bodies’ opportunity to reassert themselves and restore constitutional order.
The need is there. Governor Phil Murphy issued 11 additional executive orders (and counting) in only four weeks after declaring a ‘state of emergency.’ He’s closed private businesses, reopened others, banned public gatherings, attached criminal penalties to violations of his ‘stay at home’ order, shuttered gun ranges, suspended ‘elective’ medical procedures including organ transplants, tacitly green lit new toll hikes and even authorized the state police to confiscate private property. He’s openly discussing delaying the June 2020 primaries.
You might believe all or most of these measures are necessary to combat COVID-19 and save lives.
That’s not the point for the purposes of this discussion.
What is: the Governor has initiated draconian, sweeping curbs to American civil liberties and the 1st, 2nd, and 5th Amendments. He’s done so indefinitely and without any limiting power outside of himself in place, but his legal ability to do so is obviously questionable at best. For example, his Executive Order 107 cited N.J.S.A. 26:13-1, a statute permitting the Governor to exercise extraordinary ‘public health emergency’ powers in 30 day intervals; he only needs himself to reauthorize the emergency every 30 days. That’s hogwash.
You don’t need to be a con law professor to see that this statute is clearly unconstitutional on its face. It’s effect is to circumvent due process and set up a new process which provides no adequate protections for the aforementioned fundamental liberties acknowledged by our federal and state constitutions.
Steve Sweeney is no limited government conservative, but he also rarely misses an opportunity to be a thorn in Phil Murphy’s side. You’re asleep at the wheel, Steve, and since our legislative GOP caucus tends towards timid, you’re the only one in a position to do anything about this guy. Sitting back and letting Murphy risk all of the blame for his slapdash, power-happy decisions is tempting; it’s also self-serving, lazy and irresponsible..
Meanwhile, Murphy is warning anyone who will listen that this emergency may extend well into the summer.
Enough. Lives and jobs are on the line. The legislature needs to convene this week and in person (there are plenty of building in New Jersey where they can sit further than 6 feet apart) to do its job. It should pass limiting legislation and override Murphy if necessary to implement an oversight mechanism in the midst of this unprecedented gubernatorial power grab.
This isn’t about going back to 100% normal tomorrow. It’s about ensuring that our economy and security isn’t in the hands of a single man and his arbitrary judgment until he decides he’s done playing king. Again, America has been there and done that. We’re over it, and COVID-19 isn’t about to change most of our minds.
Save Jersey’s Founder and Blogger-in-Chief, MATT ROONEY is a nationally-noted and respected New Jersey political commentator. When he’s not on-line, radio or television advocating for conservative reform and challenging N.J. power-brokers, Matt is a practicing attorney at the law firm of DeMichele & DeMichele in Haddon Heights (Camden County).