Gov. Phil Murphy will get to make his first appointment to the New Jersey Supreme Court later next year when Justice Walter F. Timpone reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 and there is a decent chance he will use that pick to name the first black woman to the state’s top court.
Barring any unanticipated vacancies, the Timpone seat could be Murphy’s only Supreme Court nomination unless he wins a second term in 2021.
There are no African Americans on the New Jersey Supreme Court – the last black Justice was John Wallace, who left in 2010 when Gov. Chris Christie declined to renominate him – and Murphy will be under some pressure to nominate an African American justice, especially the year before he runs for re-election.
Perhaps the most progressive governor in state history, Murphy may look to appoint a young, liberal justice who could remain on the New Jersey Supreme Court for twenty or thirty years.
Some of the potential top court candidates might make Gerald Cardinale squeal, but could also further endear the governor to his political base.
And for a governor who appointed the first woman-majority cabinet in state history, it’s conceivable, if not likely, that he’ll look to narrow the gender gap on the top court from the current 5-2 male majority.
Murphy could have the opportunity to completely remake the state Supreme Court in a second term, when four more justices turn 70.
If Republicans win the next gubernatorial election – New Jersey hasn’t re-elected a Democratic governor since 1977 – the GOP could be positioned to have a majority of seats for another generation.
Possible short list
If Murphy decides to appoint a black woman, the list of candidates might include:
* 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, 58, 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, 51, 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, 41, 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, 54, 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.
Other potential Supreme Court candidates
If Murphy opts not to appoint a black women, other potential top court candidates – next year and in a Murphy second term — could include historic picks like the first Asian-American or Muslim Supreme Court Justice.
Some possible choices:
* Rachel Wainer Apter, 38, the director of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights and a former law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was a senior staff attorney at the ACLU in New York and served as deputy policy director for Law and Justice on Murphy’s transition team. Graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Law School. Lives in Englewood.
* Ronald Chen, 60, served in Gov. Jon Corzine’s cabinet as the Public Advocate and is now the co-Dean of Rutgers-Newark law school. He is currently chairing a task force that is investigating incentives granted by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. Graduate of Dartmouth College and Rutgers Law School. Lives in Berkeley Heights.
* Gurbir Grewal, 45, is the New Jersey Attorney General and became the first Sikh Attorney General in the nation when Murphy nominated him. He served as the Bergen County Prosecutor and as an assistant U.S. Attorney. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and William & Mary Law School. Lives in Glen Rock.
* Jim Johnson, 58, sought the Democratic nomination for governor in 2017. He served as Assistant U.S. Secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton administration and was a partner at a New York law firm. Graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School. Lives in Montclair.
* Hany Mawla, 45, a rising star in the state judiciary, became a Superior Court judge at age 36 and moved up to the appellate court at age 41. He is New Jersey’s first Arab American Muslim judge. Graduate of Rutgers University and Seton Hall Law School. Lives in North Brunswick.
* Matt Platkin, 32, is the chief counsel to the governor. He worked for a New York law firm and for the Brookings Institution before joining the Murphy campaign as policy director. Graduate of Stanford University and Stanford Law School. Lives in Montclair. (Eligible for a judicial appointment in 2024.)
* Alexander Shalom, 41, the senior supervising attorney at the ACLU-NJ. He is a former assistant deputy public defender and was the capital cases clerk to Chief Justice Deborah Poritz. Graduate of Tufts University and New York University Law School. Lives in South Orange.
* Kevin Walsh and Adam Gordon of the New Jersey Fair Share Housing Center. Walsh, 45, joined Fair Share Housing in 2000 and is now executive director. Graduate of The Catholic University of America and Rutgers Law School and lives in Merchantville. Gordon, 39, began at Fair Share Housing in 2006 and is now associate director. He also runs Next City magazine. Graduate of Yale University and Yale Law School and lives in Collingswood.
Chen and Johnson could age out if they aren’t picked for Timpone’s seat.
The timeline on a Murphy nomination is unclear, but Timpone must depart by November 10, 2020 – his 70th birthday.
Timpone went to the bench in 2016 as a compromise between Christie and Senate President Steve Sweeney for a seat that had been vacant for six years. Christie had refused to renominate Wallace and Sweeney steadfastly declined to confirm a series of Republican nominees for a seat that he viewed as a Democratic one.
After Timpone, the next scheduled Supreme Court vacancies come in 2022 and 2024, when four more justices turn 70: Faustino Fernandez-Vina (February 15, 2022); Barry Albin (July 7, 2022); Lee Solomon (August 17, 2024) and Jaynee LaVecchia (October 9, 2024).
LaVecchia was 46 when Gov. Christine Todd Whitman named her to the court in 2000 and Albin was 50 when Gov. James E. McGreevey nominated him in 2002.
Justice Anne Patterson will reach the mandatory retirement age in 2029 – she was 52 when Christie appointed her in 2011 – and Chief Justice Stuart Rabner turns 70 in 2030; he was 47 when Gov. Jon Corzine picked him.