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Murphy may have to re-nominate New Jersy Supreme Court pick


5:59 pm
January 3, 2022



Posts: 53


Murphy may have to re-nominate New Jersy Supreme Court pick or make another choice. After being stalled for nearly 10 months, it appears unlikely Gov. Phil Murphy’s latest nominee to the New Jersey Supreme Court will be confirmed in the final week of the current legislative session.

That sets up a possible showdown on the makeup of the Garden State’s highest court — and Murphy’s role in shaping it — over the coming months.

Murphy nominated civil rights attorney Rachel Wainer Apter, a fellow Democrat, last March to succeed Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, an independent who left the bench Friday. But it’s up to the state Senate to confirm her.

If the Senate doesn’t take up her nomination in the final days before the current lame-duck voting session ends at noon Jan. 11, Murphy will have to either re-nominate Wainer Apter or nominate someone else after the next state Legislature is sworn in.

In an interview with NJ Advance Media on Monday, outgoing Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, suggested her confirmation is improbable in the next seven days because state Sen. Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen, has not signed off on the nomination. Sweeney said he “doubts” Schepisi’s position will change “at this point.”

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.

“It’s not me,” added Sweeney, who is set to leave office Jan. 11 after losing re-election. “I committed from the day he nominated her that I’d put her up as soon as she was ready.”

Schepisi told NJ Advance Media she is having “continuing communications with the governor’s office regarding ensuring balance” on the Supreme Court. The senator also said she has concerns about “some of the positions” Wainer Apter has advocated for in the past, though she did not specify which.

Wainer Apter is a former law clerk to the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She has also been the director of the state Division of Civil Rights and an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.

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’ve had some pretty robust discussions regarding (the nomination),” Schepisi said. “There is potentially a pathway to get my support. But we still have some work to do to get there.”

“Our Supreme Court has extraordinary power,” she added. “If we’re going to put someone on here who could be there for three decades shaping policy, we need to ensure it’s a balanced judiciary and it’s not an activist court.”

This would be the second of three Supreme Court nominations Murphy would choose during his tenure.

The governor already had one nominee, Fabiana Pierre-Louis, confirmed to the bench. In 2020, Pierre-Louis became the first Black woman to serve on the court in New Jersey history.

And in addition to the Wainer Apter nomination, Justice Faustino Fernandez-Vina, a Republican, is set to reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 on Feb. 15. Murphy would get to nominate his successor, as well.

Both Pierre-Louis and Wainer Apter are in their early 40s and are about three decades away from the court’s retirement age. That means Murphy could help determine the court’s makeup for years to come.

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