A state appeals court today ruled New Jersey’s secretary of state must accept a petition a citizens group filed to recall U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, but left open the question of whether the removal effort itself is constitutional.
The three-judge panel stayed its ruling to give Menendez (D-N.J.) the opportunity to appeal to the state Supreme Court.. The senator has 45 days to file an appeal but did not say today whether he would. He called the recall effort a "political stunt" that won’t distract him from doing his job.
"This an organization trying to undemocratically and unconstitutionally overturn an election in which more than 2 million New Jerseyans voted," said Menendez, whose term expires in 2012. "My focus continues to be on job creation legislation and delivering a successful extension of my local property tax relief bill."
The court found existing New Jersey law and the state’s constitution both allow U.S. senators to be recalled. For that reason, the appeals court said, the removal effort can proceed. But noting the absence of case law and precedent, it left the ultimate question of the constitutionality of the state’s recall law and amendment to a higher court.
"There are a host of genuine arguments and counterarguments that can be articulated and debated about whether or not the Federal Constitution would permit a United States Senator to be recalled by the voters under state law," the appellate judges said.
"I’m pleased," said Dan Silberstein, attorney for the Committee to Recall Senator Menendez, which is backed by the New Jersey chapter of the conservative Tea Party movement. "I think the appellate court made the right decision on where the case is procedurally."
Menendez’s attorney disagreed.
"The U.S. Constitution is clear that a senator’s term is six years and is not subject to recall," said Marc E. Elias. "The state attorney general correctly argued before the court that a recall is unconstitutional and a clear disservice to voters who take part in a petition process that is invalid. We are pleased the court stayed this opinion until the appeals process is completed."