Court of Opinion: How a Rift Over Judges May Have Caused Chris Christie’s BridgeGate


By this point in time, Rachel Maddow has earned the right to be heard.

As the person who initially broke the Chris Christie story, Maddow has gone to work helping to ensure that the national media for once do its job and report on actual news. Maddow and her research team have been furiously working behind the scenes to provide us with ongoing updates and information on what once appeared to be a story too bizarre to be true. It is due to Maddow’s reporting that this story was not only heard, but it has now garnered national attention and has irrevocably damaged the presidential aspirations of Chris Christie.

Tonight on The Rachel Maddow Show, Maddow took a look at the story and what it has become. For her and her staff the major question remained the motivation behind the bridge closing. Was Chris Christie really so petty that he and his staff intentionally shut down a bridge simply because a democratic mayor refused to support him in his re-election bid? It seemed outrageous, even for someone as vindictive and cruel as Christie. And yet, it was the only plausible explanation.

Until tonight.

Thanks to some first-rate research, Maddow and her team posited a new theory: Christie went after Fort Lee as retribution not for the mayor’s politics but for a rift over New Jersey state judges. Maddow noted that the date of the email in which Bridget Kelly delivered the instructions to “unleash hell on Fort Lee” was August 13th at roughly 7:30 in the morning. Therefore, something dramatic must have happened around that time which would have caused Christie and his cronies to take action and go after Fort Lee.

According to Maddow, on the night of August 12th, Chris Christie delivered an angry press conference in which he announced the withdrawal of Republican Helen Hoens for lifetime tenure on the state Supreme Court. This was just the latest in an ongoing battle between Republicans and Democrats in the state when it came to Supreme Court justices. As Maddow mentioned, state Supreme Court justices in New Jersey are given a seven-year term before then being nominated for lifetime tenure. Christie pulled Hoens, and essentially ended her judicial career on the bench rather than have her good name soiled through the nomination process.

So, why all the animosity?

In 2010, Christie declined to renominate Justice John Wallace, Jr., the only African-American Supreme Court judge. Christie refused to give a reason for declining Wallace, even though he had no scandals or controversies to his name. This was the first person to be declined since the modern court was established in 1947 and it sent state Democrats into an uproar. In the three years that followed, they refused two additional high-profile, Christie Republican nominees for the Wallace position and it got to the point in August of 2013 that Christie realized that Democrats would go so far as to attack Hoens when she was up for lifetime tenure. Rather than have Hoens go through the grueling process, Christie realized she was a lost cause and he pulled the plug on her and her judicial career on the state Supreme Court.

As we see, there was clear animosity between Christie and his Democratic colleagues in the state government. But what was it about Hoens that may have set Christie off? Here is where Maddow and her team deliver the bombshell: Helen Hoens’ husband worked closely with Christie in his administration. What better way to set off somebody with an explosive temper like Christie than to deny one of his own cronies a chance to move up the political ladder? It is with this idea that Maddow deposits her theory: Christie was so enraged over having to withdraw Hoens’ name that he immediately went to work to find ways to get back at the Democrats for what they had done. Just over twelve hours later, an email was delivered that targeted Fort Lee for the now infamous lane closures.

So, why Fort Lee?

Fort Lee is the district represented by the leader of the senate Democrats, Loretta Weinberg. This was the person who was leading the charge in blocking everything Christie was trying to do with his justices and everything he was trying to do in helping advance the career of Helen Hoens. The only thing bigger than Chris Christie’s appetite is his political ambitions. If he felt in any way that Weinberg was a threat to these ambitions, he was going to do whatever it took to get back at her and to show her what happens if you dared challenge the governor. Maddow’s theory is that it was this ongoing battle over judges and Hoens’ withdrawal that sent Christie over the edge and what caused his administration to give the order to “unleash hell on Fort Lee.”

Sound like a far-fetched theory that’s too out there too be true?

That’s exactly the same thing they said about Maddow’s initial reporting about the lane closures one month ago.

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