The New Jersey Statehouse
The New Jersey Statehouse ()

The administration of Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie asked the state Supreme Court to reinstate civil service rules, aimed at eliminating competitive testing for some state government jobs, that were rejected by the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

A top lawyer from the Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday urged the court to overturn an Appellate Division ruling that upheld a legislative veto of the 2013 rule changes issued by the state Civil Service Commission.

The CSC rule changes—commonly known as “job-banding”—defined certain job titles as “bands,” and allowed workers within a band to advance from one pay grade to another without having to take a competitive exam. The CSC said the advancements were not promotions, which still require a competitive exam.

The Legislature declared the rule changes invalid, but the CSC adopted them nevertheless.

Unions representing state workers and the Legislature then challenged the rules in court. A three-judge Appellate Division panel upheld the Legislature’s decision in a published decision last December.

Executive Assistant Attorney General Peter Slocum said the Legislature overstepped its authority since the CSC had the power to adopt the rule changes.

“It was an exercise in power it did not have,” Slocum said of the Legislature. “Job-banding was a legal exercise of the [CSC's] authority.”

The Legislature’s decision “violated the separation of powers,” he said.

The Legislature, in overturning the rules, invoked the Legislative Review Clause of the state constitution, which voters approved in 1992.

Slocum, however, said the clause does not entitle the Legislature to “absolute veto” of executive branch actions.

Annmarie Pinarski—representing the Communications Workers of America, the state’s largest public-sector workers’ union, and the AFL-CIO—defended the Legislature’s action.

“There should be a presumption of validity attached to a legislative act,” said Pinarski, of Weissman & Mintz in Somerset. “There should be substantial deference.”

Justice Faustino Fernandez-Vina asked whether the courts could review the Legislature’s decision to overturn executive branch rules.

Yes, Pinarski said, adding that the Legislature should still be afforded substantial deference.

Arnold Cohen, representing the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 195, said the CSC’s rules put too much power into the hands of various state department managers.

“Careers under the [CSC] rules are totally dependent on the whim and caprice of supervisors,” said Cohen, of Newark’s Oxfeld Cohen.

The CSC, he said, “abrogated its responsibility” to adopt standards for promotions.

Leon Sokol represented the Legislature. The most important issue was that the Legislature believes that competitive exams should be used to determine advancement, said Sokol, of Newark’s Cullen and Dykman.

“This was an attempt by the [CSC] to substantially change the definition of ‘promotion,’” Sokol said, adding that the administration was attempting to “trivialize the power of the Legislature.”

The CSC initially adopted the job-banding rules as a pilot program in 2012, and it primarily affects state employees working in what would be considered middle-management and professional positions.