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Court Considers N.J. Election Republicans Urge Court to Block Replacement in Senate Race

By James G. Savage
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

Two years after the Supreme Court sided with the Republicans in the disputed presidential race, the justices now must decide whether to intervene on behalf of New Jersey Republicans in a race that could decide which political party controls the Senate.

Lawyers for GOP Senate candidate Doug Forrester urged the Supreme Court Thursday to reverse a ruling of the state’s judges and to block New Jersey Democrats from switching Senate candidates just a month before the election.

It is “fundamentally unfair,” they said, to allow the “party bosses” to bring in a fresh candidate to replace a sure loser.

They also accused New Jersey’s highest court of “amending the law to endorse their partisan manipulation.”

On Monday, Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) tainted by scandal and sinking in the polls, announced he was dropping his reelection bid.

A day later, New Jersey’s Democratic leaders chose former Sen. Frank Lautenberg to run in his place.

On Wednesday, the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered that Lautenberg’s name replace Torricelli’s on the state ballot, although the Democrats were ordered to pay $800,000 to cover the cost.

New Jersey election law describes the procedures for replacing a candidate “in the event of a vacancy, which shall occur not later than the 51st day before the general election.”

The Democrats switched candidates 33 days before the election, but the state judges upheld the move because it would give the voters “a full and fair ballot choice.”

In a brief opinion, the judges explained that the 51-day rule was intended to further “the orderly administration of an election,” and that an orderly election can be held even with the late switch on the Democratic side.

In their appeal Thursday, the GOP lawyers said the state court decision “threatens to change the face of American politics. Prompt action from this court is required to prevent growing public cynicism regarding even-handed application of election law rules.”

And lest the justices have forgotten, Thursday’s appeal recalls that the U.S. Supreme Court intervened “in very similar cases arising out of election disputes in Florida.”