Murphy to renominate N.J. Supreme Court pick while Republicans worry about court’s makeup

Published: Jan. 11, 2022

Gov. Phil Murphy announced Tuesday he will renominate civil rights attorney Rachel Wainer Apter to fill a vacancy on the New Jersey Supreme Court after the state Senate did not confirm the selection in the two-year legislative term that expired earlier in the day.

Murphy had the choice to either renominate Wainer Apter, a fellow Democrat, or choose someone else to succeed retired Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, an independent, as a new state Legislature was sworn in Tuesday.

The governor said he has “only grown more confident” in Wainer Apter’s “character and the integrity she will bring as a future justice” since he first nominated her in March of last year.

“The direction of the New Jersey Supreme Court has never been more important,” Murphy added. “I am hopeful for a swift confirmation by the Senate and look forward to the day that we can swear her in to fill the tremendous void left by Justice LaVecchia, whose impact on New Jersey law is matched by few in the Court’s history.”

The holdup has been the approval of state Sen. Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen, who has not agreed yet to sign off on Wainer Apter’s nomination.

In New Jersey, senators from a nominee’s home county have senatorial courtesy, meaning they can stop that nominee from advancing. Wainer Apter lives in Bergen County, parts of which Schepisi represents.

Schepisi has said she has concerns about “some of the positions” Wainer Apter has advocated for in the past, as well as the direction the court may take under Murphy, who will get to nominate five justices before his second term is through in 2025. The Republican senator said she wants to “ensure it’s a balanced judiciary” and “not an activist court.”

If she’s confirmed, Wainer Apter would would shift the makeup of the court from three Republicans, three Democrats, and one independent to four Democrats and three Republicans.

“We continue to have good conversations,” Schepisi told NJ Advance Media on Tuesday. “We’ll see what happens in the next couple of weeks.”

It’s possible if Murphy promises to nominate a Republican to succeed the next retiring Supreme Court Justice, Republican Fausto Fernandez-Vina, next month, that could lead to a deal to confirm Wainer Apter.

New Jersey governors and top lawmakers have traditionally sought to keep a partisan balance on the Supreme Court, though there is no law requiring it.

Murphy told NJ Advance Media last week he’s “respectful of the traditions of the court,” which suggests he will keep the partisan balance.

“I think you’ll be very surprised if I don’t continue to be respectful of that,” the governor added.

Wainer Apter, a 41-year-old Englewood native, is a former law clerk to the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader and has been an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union and the state Attorney General’s Office. She is currently director of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights.

Murphy has already had one nominee, Fabiana Pierre-Louis, confirmed to the Supreme Court. In 2020, Pierre-Louis became the first Black woman to serve on the court in New Jersey history.

In addition to the Wainer Apter nomination, Fausto-Vina is set to reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 on Feb. 15. Then, Justice Barry Albin, a Democrat, will hit retirement age on July 7. Justice Lee Solomon, a Republican, will reach the age in August 2024.

Murphy would get to nominate successors for those three, as well. That means he could help determine the court’s makeup for years to come.

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner announced earlier this month that state Superior Court Judge Jose Fuentes will serve on the Supreme Court temporarily until Wainer Apter or someone else is confirmed to replace LaVecchia, who left the court on Dec. 31.

Do you like this post?

Showing 1 reaction

published this page in News and Politics 2022-01-12 03:18:48 -0800