The Case to Recall Senator Robert Menendez

NJ court agrees to hear US senator recall case.

On November 7, 2006, Robert Menendez was elected to represent New Jersey in the United States Senate, and on January 4, 2007, Menendez was officially seated after taking the "oath prescribed by law." On September 25, 2009, the Committee To Recall Robert Menendez From The Office of U.S. Senator initiated the recall process by filing a notice of intention to recall him. On January 11, 2008, the New Jersey Secretary of State rejected the notice and petition for filing and review.

As any spin doctor worth his salt knows, facts speak for themselves. And any astute citizen knows government officials wrangle for power through political maneuvering. Much less frequently, however, the legal landscape provides context for these observers. Therefore, the case to recall the election of Robert Menendez will undoubtedly provide political pundits with fodder for the public. Furthermore, for those who are keen about the law that governs politics, this case involves the Constitution of New Jersey, the Uniform Recall Election Law, N.J.S.A. 19:27A-1 to -18, and the Constitution of the United States.

As to state constitutions generally, voter understanding is one tool to interpret a provision's meaning. In addition, some state constitutional provisions are self-executing while others are not. The distinguishing feature is that a non-self-executing provision requires legislative action in order for the constitutional provision to be implemented.

In respect of both the New Jersey Constitution and the case of Robert Menendez, in 1993 the people of New Jersey amended the state constitution by a three-to-one vote to provide for the recall of elected officials. As with other referenda, an interpretive statement appeared on the ballot to provide voters in the booth with information about the question at issue. It explained not only the core purpose of the amendment, to recall elected officials, but also the scope. More particularly, the recall law would apply "to any elected official in this State and to the United States Senators and Congressmen elected from New Jersey." It also explained voter approval on this amendment would authorize the legislature to enact relevant election laws.

Consistent with all of this evidence about voter understanding, the New Jersey Constitution, art. I, ¶ 2 was amended to provide, "The people reserve unto themselves the power to recall, after at least one year of service, any elected official in this State or representing this State in the United States Congress." In addition, this provision commands the legislature to enact the relevant enabling statutes. Notably, this amendment appears immediately after the provision declaring "All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for the protection, security, and benefit of the people, and they have the right at all times to alter or reform the same, whenever the public good may require it." N.J. Const. art. I, ¶ 2.

The clash between the Federal and New Jersey Constitutions provide only one of many interesting legal issues in this matter. As this article indicates, the New Jersey Supreme Court granted certification to the parties as to all the issues in this controversy. Until then, the decision of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division is available here.