July 27, 2012
Constitutional Amendment regarding Judicial Salaries
Yesterday the Senate Labor Committee held a public hearing on SCR-110, which proposes a constitutional amendment clarifying Legislature’s authority to pass laws taking contributions from justices’ and certain judges’ salaries for employee benefits. Both the Assembly and Senate will hold a voting session on Monday on this bill. At this time, there are no other bills on their respective agendas.
P.L.2011, c.78, enacted June 28, 2011, increased the contribution rate by an additional 9% of salary for justices and judges who are members of the Judicial Retirement System (JRS), with the increase in the contribution rate to be phased-in, in equal increments, over a period of seven years. However a lawsuit was filed in 2011, DePascale v. State, that argued that the higher contributions, with respect to currently appointed justices and judges, was unconstitutional as Article VI, Section 6, Paragraph 6of the State’s Constitution states that salaries for justices and judges “shall not be diminished during the term of their appointment.” Recently, the New Jersey Supreme Court in a 3-2 decision, ruled that “the Pension and Health Care Benefits Act (Chapter 78), which requires increased pension and health care contributions by sitting justices and judges, diminishes judicial salaries during a jurist’s term of appointment in violation of Article VI, Section 6, Paragraph 6 of the New Jersey Constitution.”
SCR-110 would amend the State Constitution to clarify the Legislature’s authority to enact laws that deduct contributions from the salaries of Supreme Court Justices and Superior Court Judges to help fund their employee benefits, which include their pension and health care coverage. The amendment adds language to the Constitution to clarify that benefit contributions may be deducted from justices’ and judges’ salaries during their terms, as set from time to time by law. It would become part of the New Jersey Constitution immediately upon approval by the voters, and make the higher benefit contribution requirements of P.L.2011, c.78 (C.43:3C-16 et al.) applicable to all current and future justices and judges as of that date.
We understand that the goal is to have the bill passed in time so the question will be on this November’s general election ballot.
Very truly yours,
William G. Dressel, Jr.