Joe Biden may have boxed in Gov. Phil Murphy on his first appointment to the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Biden pledge to appoint the first black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court during a presidential debate on Sunday night could force Murphy to do something he might have done anyway: appoint an African American to the state’s top court nearly a decade after his predecessor dumped the lone black justice.
“Returning an African-American voice to the court would be a major accomplishment that Governor Murphy would clearly be proud to campaign on,” said Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider. “But given the court’s void and the history behind it, it would also work as a negative— he’d be creating a potential re-election liability for himself if he misses the opportunity.”
Associate Justice Walter Timpone reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 on November 10, giving Murphy his first new Supreme Court pick since taking office more than two years ago.
The Supreme Court has been without an African American justice since 2010, when Gov. Chris Christie declined to renominate John Wallace to a tenured term.
“Given the care Governor Murphy took in assembling a cabinet that matches the diversity of our state, I cannot see any circumstance in which he would miss the opportunity to return an African-American voice to our highest court— and fix a decade-old void created by Chris Christie,” Rasmussen said.
Murphy, who named the first woman-majority cabinet in state history, could also look to narrow the gender gap on the state Supreme Court, which now has five men and two women. He could also look to name a progressive justice who could spent 20 years on the top court.
In 2018, Murphy renominated one of Christie’s picks, Anne Patterson, for a tenured term. Another Christie-appointed justice, Faustino Fernandez-Vina, is up for tenure nine days after Timpone retires, and a third, Lee Solomon, finishes his initial seven-year term in June 2021.
Patterson, Fernandez-Vina, known as Fuzzy, and Solomon are Republicans.
If he wins re-election to a second term in 2021, Murphy will have an opportunity to completely make over the New Jersey Supreme Court. Justices Barry Albin, appointed by James E. McGreevey, and Fernandez-Vina and will reach the mandatory retirement age in 2022. Jayne LaVecchia, named by Christine Todd Whitman, and Solomon turn 70 in 2024.
Last April, the New Jersey Globe posted a possible short list of candidates who could be to Murphy’s liking:
* Elise Boddie, 51, a law professor at Rutgers-Newark and the former director of litigation for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. She founded The Inclusion Project at Rutgers Law and ran the Civil Rights and Racial Justice Policy working group for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School. Lives in Montclair.
* Greta Gooden Brown, 62, has served and as a Superior Court Judge since 2009 and an appellate court judge since 2016. She is a former deputy attorney general and state Insurance Fraud prosecutor. Graduate of Rutgers University Law School. Lives in Plainsboro.
* Norma Evans, 60, is career prosecutor and the president-elect of the Association of Black Women Lawyers of New Jersey. Served as an assistant Camden County prosecutor and deputy state attorney general. Graduate of Temple University Law School. Lives in Marlton.
* Karla Foy, 52, is a law professor at Seton Hall University who ran her own law firm in Hackensack and worked in the Office of the General Counsel at the U.S. Department of Education. She served as president of the Teaneck Community Charter School. Graduate of American University and Harvard Law School. Lives in Teaneck.
* Norrinda Hayat, 42, is a Rutgers-Newark law professor and director of the Civil Justice Clinic. She is a former trial attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, during the administration of President Barack Obama. Graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Virginia Law School. Lives in Montclair.
* Kay Walcott Henderson, 48, has served as a Superior Court Judge since 2016. She is a former chief counsel to the Assembly Democrats under Speaker Joe Roberts, was an assistant counsel to Gov. Jon Corzine and served as an administrative law judge. Graduate of Villanova Law School. Lives in Lawrence Township.
* Kimberly Mutcherson, 47, the co-Dean of Rutgers-Camden law school and an expert on reproductive justice. She was an attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights and the HIV Law Project. Graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia Law School. Lives in Oaklyn.
* Tracy Thompson, 52, a career prosecutor who served as the state attorney general’s Human Trafficking program director. She served as a deputy state attorney general and as a Mercer County assistant prosecutor. Graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University Law School. Lives in Trenton.
Gooden Brown will turn 63 next year and could be viewed as too old if Murphy wants his pick to have a lasting effect on the Supreme Court. The others, if renominated and reconfirmed in 2027, could each serve at least fifteen years on the Supreme Court.