By Darryl R. Isherwood | March 23rd, 2012 - 1:35pm
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Supreme Court Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, whose political affiliation was at the heart of the recent debate over the partisan balance on the high court, donated to at least three Republican campaigns and the GOP state party in the late 1990s, according to state and federal campaign finance records.

The donations, which all came prior to LaVecchia’s appointment to the court, total $2,900 and were made to Republicans Leonard Lance and Bill Gormley and to the state Republican Committee.

Three of the donations, one each to Gormley and Lance and the one to the GOP committee, list LaVecchia’s employer as the State of New Jersey, while the forth, made to Lance’s 1996 Congressional run, list “attorney” as her employer.  LaVecchia was employed by the state when all four donations were made.

LaVecchia, whose voter registration lists her as unaffiliated, was nominated to the Supreme Court by Gov. Christie Whitman, after LaVecchia had served in Whitman’s administration as the Commissioner of the Department of Banking and Insurance.  Prior to that she had worked in the administration of Gov. Tom Kean as Deputy Chief Counsel.

LaVecchia’s political leanings became an issue after Gov. Chris Christie nominated Bruce Harris and Phil Kwon to the Supreme Court.

Democrats argued that Harris, a Republican, and Kwon, who is unaffiliated, would upset the balance of the court, which has traditionally had four members of one party and three of the other.  Kwon had been a registered Republican in New York before moving to New Jersey where he did not affiliate with a party.

Republicans countered that the two men would perfectly preserve the balance, putting it at three Republicans, two Democrats and two independents, including LaVecchia, who they maintain is a true independent.  As proof, the administration pointed to her rulings, which have sided with both parties during her tenure on the court.  Even if Kwon was considered a Republican, which the administration refused to concede, the court would stand at four Republicans, two Democrats and an independent, the administration said, maintaining the balance.

Democrats contend that LaVecchia had long been considered a Republican, owing to her work in two GOP administrations and appointment by Whitman and would put the partisan balance of the court at five Republicans  - including Kwon - and two Democrats.

In the end, the partisan balance issue spelled the end of Kwon’s nomination as Senate Judiciary Committee shot him down Thursday by a 7 to 6 vote.

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