April 5, 2001 (TRENTON, N.J.) - New Jersey's chief executive has joined the chorus calling for the resignation of state Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero over the hot issue of racial profiling.
Verniero served as the state's attorney general before Gov. Christie Whitman named him to the high court in 1999. During that time, officials denied that state troopers were targeting black and Hispanic drivers for traffic stops. Acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco, who, as president of the state Senate, succeeded Whitman, said today that Verniero should step down because he gave misleading answers during a hearing on his confirmation. The state Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to DiFrancesco earlier this week calling for resignation, and some legislators have said they are preparing resolutions of censure or impeachment.
Verniero spent 13 hours last week testifying before the committee. He denied any wrongdoing and suggested that he was too trusting of State Police officials, who were nominally under his supervision as attorney general.
Whether the Legislature has grounds to remove Verniero is unclear, and he has said he will not resign. If he remains on the Supreme Court, he could be rejected in 2006, when the state Senate must reconfirm his nomination.
This week, John Farmer, New Jersey's current attorney general, told the committee that troopers still appear to be making race-based traffic stops. He said that 73 percent of the drivers subjected to consent searches on the New Jersey Turnpike are black and Hispanic, and that troopers find guns, drugs or other illegal items in a much higher proportion of the vehicles with white drivers.