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New Jersey Supreme Court Justice-designate Rachel Wainer Apter. (Photo: Edwin J. Torres/ NJ Governor’s Office.)

Murphy to renominate Wainer Apter to Supreme Court

Pick to succeed LaVecchia went 10 months without receiving Senate confirmation

By David Wildstein, January 11 2022 9:47 am

In a widely anticipated move, Gov. Phil Murphy will formally renominate Rachel Wainer Apter to serve as an associate justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court at some point on Tuesday, the New Jersey Globe has learned.

Murphy originally nominated Wainer Apter on March 15, one week after Justice Jaynee LaVecchia announced her retirement, but the State Senate never considered her nomination after State Sen. Holy Schepisi (R-River Vale) refused to sign off.

Under New Jersey’s unwritten rule of senatorial courtesy, Wainer Apter needed the support of all senators who live in Bergen County, where she resides, to see her nomination advance.

Since the current legislature expires at noon, all Murphy nominees who were not confirmed by the Senate must be renominated.

The 41-year-old director of the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights and a former American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney, Wainer Apter served as a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

LaVecchia delayed her retirement from September 1 until December 31.  Now, Appellate Court Judge Jose L. Fuentes is serving as an acting Supreme Court Justice under someone is confirmed for Wainer Apter’s seat.

The rules have not changed for Wainer Apter, who must still get Schepisi’s approval, or move out of Bergen County.  Schepisi could sign off in exchange for input into Murphy’s next top court pick.

Another associate justice, Faustino Fernandez-Vina, commonly known as Fuzzy, reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 on February 15.  Fernandez-Vina is a Republican and Murphy is expected to retain the partisan balance of the top court.

Murphy is also unlikely to leave the state Supreme Court without any Hispanic justices.

The New Jersey Globe has learned that Superior Court Judge Maritza Berdote Byrne, a Republican who was born in Cuba, has emerged as a top contender for the post.  Union County Assignment Judge Lisa Miralles Walsh is also under consideration.

In the event that Fernandez-Vina’s seat is not filled by February 15, the senior presiding judge of the appellate court, Clarkson S. Fisher, Jr., would likely be elevated to the Supreme Court – although Rabner has some leeway on this.    Fisher faces mandatory retirement on November 29.

“Since first nominating Rachel Wainer Apter to the New Jersey Supreme Court last year, I have only grown more confident in her character and the integrity she will bring as a future Justice,” Murphy said.  “The direction of the New Jersey Supreme Court has never been more important. 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.”

This story was updated with comment from Murphy at 1:12 PM.

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