By Jon Hurdle
TRENTON, New Jersey (Reuters) - New Jersey voters should be allowed to decide whether to seek removal of Democratic Senator Robert Menendez from office because of his support for national healthcare reform and other measures, a recall group argued in court on Tuesday.
The recall group, which emerged from a local branch of the conservative Tea Party movement, appeared before the New Jersey state Supreme Court to argue that the state constitution allows for senators to be removed from office if they violate that constitution.
"The New Jersey constitution implies that all political power resides in the people," said Andrew Schlafly, attorney for the Committee to Recall Robert Menendez from the Office of Senator. "The people have the fundamental say, and legislators are their spokesmen."
The initiative to recall Menendez stemmed from his support for health and immigration reform and for cap-and-trade legislation to curb industrial emissions of greenhouse gases, recall supporters said.
Supporters of the recall initiative claim Menendez's votes increased federal deficits. The Tea Party movement, which argues for smaller government and lower taxes, opposed the healthcare reform signed into law by President Barack Obama.
In court, the New Jersey group cited a 1787 letter by George Washington, who later became president, saying if elected representatives acted against the wishes of the voters, "their servants can, and undoubtedly will, be recalled."
Menendez' attorney Mark Elias argued that the framers of the U.S. Constitution debated the idea of recall but omitted it in order to protect sitting senators from short-term political pressures.
"The idea was not to have the senators subject to the passions of the electorate on any given day," Elias told the panel of six justices. He also argued that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that under the U.S. Constitution, states must yield to the federal government.
The court is expected to issue its ruling in coming months. Similar recall initiatives are underway in Louisiana, North Dakota and Colorado, where conservative activists are looking to New Jersey for a lead on the issue.
A New Jersey recall initiative would require gathering 1.3 million signatures within 320 days to put a ballot question to voters, asking if they want to remove the senator from office.
If the initiative is permitted, the recall group said that 1,400 volunteers would seek the signatures.