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Supreme Court won't intervene in N.J. case

'Let the campaign begin'

Frank Lautenberg
Frank Lautenberg

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Supreme Court order denying stay: Forrester v. New Jersey Democratic Party  (FindLaw document, PDF format)external link

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With the midterm elections four weeks away, the U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to intervene in New Jersey's ballot dispute, permitting Democrats to replace Sen. Robert Torricelli with Frank Lautenberg as their U.S. Senate nominee.

New Jersey Republicans also failed to get a lower federal court to intervene in the ballot fight in a case that focused on alleged voting rights violations

Barring any changes, that means Lautenberg will be on the November 5 ballot. He will face Republican Doug Forrester.

The New Jersey race is critical to both political parties because Democrats control the U.S. Senate by just one vote. Republicans believed with Torricelli on the ballot, they stood a good chance of winning that seat, but they appeared to accept the Supreme Court's decision.

Torricelli dropped out of the race one week ago because he was falling in the polls amid lingering questions over his ethics. Democrats scrambled to find a replacement candidate and lured Lautenberg, who left the Senate two years ago, out of retirement.

Angelo Genova, an attorney representing New Jersey Democrats, said it is now time to "get on with the business of the campaign" and to "take this matter out of the courtroom and put it into the court of public opinion."

"It's time for the lawyers to take their litigation bags and go home," Genova told reporters. "The time has come to begin to address the issues that are most important to the citizens of New Jersey. ... The voters of this state deserve a competitive race with a free debate."

Bill Baroni, an attorney who works for Forrester's campaign, said workers there were "disappointed in what the Supreme Court decided today," but added that Forrester is ready for the election.

Doug Forrester
Doug Forrester

"The litigation is over and let the campaign begin," Baroni said. "Now, the political folks and the candidates can go on and have an election in the next 28 days."

Forrester, in a written statement, lashed out at Democrats for the ballot switch.

"It's unfortunate that the Torricelli-Lautenberg Machine has forced the people of New Jersey through yet another embarrassing episode," Forrester said. "But on November 5, the voters of our great state will seize the opportunity to restore New Jersey's pride -- and to tell the backroom powerbrokers once and for all that 'enough is enough.'

Lautenberg, 78, said he had directed his staff to try to set up a face-to-face debate with Forrester on issues such as the economy, Medicare, Social Security, the environment and national security.

"It is now time for Mr. Forrester to begin talking about these issues and presenting a real choice to the voters of New Jersey. They deserve that choice, and the United States Supreme Court today protected that choice," Lautenberg said in a written statement.

Republicans had asked the Supreme Court to overrule the New Jersey Supreme Court, which last week approved a request by Democrats to remove Torricelli from the ballot and replace him with Lautenberg.

The GOP maintained that, under New Jersey law, Democrats missed the deadline for replacing a candidate, saying a candidate who wants to get off the ballot must do so at least 51 days before the election, and a replacement must be selected at least 48 days before the vote.

Neither Torricelli nor Lautenberg met those deadlines, but the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled unanimously that election laws should be "liberally construed" to provide a "full and fair ballot choice for the voters of New Jersey."

Meanwhile, New Jersey Republicans suffered another legal setback Monday.

Attorneys for Forrester went to federal court in Trenton, New Jersey to argue that the Voting Rights Act was violated by the switch of Democratic candidates.

That hearing involved a lawsuit filed by two voters -- a U.S. Army doctor, Kevin Reilly, in Hawaii and a man living in Paris -- who said they already cast their ballots in the race. They are being represented by Forrester's legal team.

Siding with Democrats, U.S. District Court Judge Garrett Brown refused to intervene, saying the case would be best handled by the state judge who is implementing the state Supreme Court's ruling to drop Torricelli from the ballot.

Torricelli, whose poll numbers plunged amid an ethics scandal, pulled out of the race Monday, saying he did not want to be responsible for Democrats losing control of the Senate, where they hold power by a single vote.

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