Supreme Court rejects Harper appointee Marc Nadon

The Supreme Court has dealt a stunning blow to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, ruling that his latest appointee to that court, Justice Marc Nadon of Quebec, is not legally qualified for the job.

The court ruled 6-1 that the purpose of the special appointment rules for Quebec judges is “to ensure civil law expertise and the representation of Quebec’s legal traditions and social values on the Court, and to enhance the confidence of Quebec in the Court.” Justice Michael Moldaver of Ontario dissented.

“a huge day for the Canadian federation. This is a ringing declaration from the Supreme Court of Canada on the importance of Quebec’s distinct character and how important it is to protect it.”

It was the first time in its 139-year history the court had been asked to judge the qualifications of a prospective member. By law, three spots on the court are reserved for Quebec judges. The Supreme Court Act does not directly say that a judge from the Federal Court can be appointed to fill a Quebec spot, and Justice Nadon had been a member of the Federal Court’s trial and appeal divisions for the past 20 years. Before that he was a lawyer for 20 years specializing in maritime law, mostly based in Montreal.

The separatist Parti Québécois government sent lawyers to the court in January to argue that Federal Court judges lack current knowledge of the province’s legal environment and civil code (which covers matters such as family and property law). Ottawa argued that the Prime Minister needs wide latitude to find the best and brightest candidates for the bench. Mr. Harper’s defeat has the effect of denying the PQ ammunition in the current election: If the ruling had gone the other way, the PQ could have argued that the Supreme Court doesn’t understand or reflect the province’s special status within Canada.

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This content has been updated on August 23, 2014 at 12:19.