Gov. Phil Murphy announced today that he will nominate Superior Court Judge Douglas Fasciale to an open seat on the New Jersey Supreme Court, a development months in the making that may finally break the state’s persistent impasse over Supreme Court nominations.
“His service as a judge spans nearly every part of the New Jersey judiciary, preparing him well to serve on our state’s highest court,” Murphy said of Fasciale. “Doug may be a registered Republican, but he commands universal respect across the legal community and across the aisle. He also has my tremendous respect, and I have to say he’s a great guy.”
Fasciale, a Union County resident, would replace former Justice Faustino Fernandez-Vina, who had to leave the court in February when he turned 70 years old. He’s already been serving on the Supreme Court in a temporary capacity since September 1, when Chief Justice Stuart Rabner elevated him and two other Superior Court judges to fill the high court’s many vacant seats.
“As a sitting judge for 18 years, I am fully aware of the enormous responsibility on the shoulders of our chief justice and the other justices of our Supreme Court – a court with a national reputation for outstanding judicial distinction,” Fasicale said. “Your trust inspires in me the desire to be the best that I can possibly be.”
Fasciale has served as a Superior Court Judge since 2004, and was promoted to the state appellate court in 2010; before joining the state judiciary, he was a civil trial attorney. At 61, he’ll be able to serve on the court until 2030, unless he chooses to step down before then.
His nomination comes as part of a complex deal among Murphy, Senate President Nick Scutari (D-Linden), and State Sen. Holly Schepisi (R-River Vale) to resolve a vacancy crisis that has lasted nearly a year and a half.
Back in March 2021, Murphy nominated former ACLU staff attorney Rachel Wainer Apter to serve on the Supreme Court, but her nomination was blocked by Schepisi via senatorial courtesy (Wainer Apter is a Bergen County resident). In the following 17 months that Schepisi held up Wainer Apter’s nomination, two other Supreme Court seats, those held by Fernandez-Vina and former Justice Barry Albin, came open as well.
The increasingly untenable number of vacancies on the court finally led to a breakthrough on September 2, when Schepisi released Wainer Apter’s nomination and Murphy chose to nominate Fasciale at the strong recommendation of Scutari. The bipartisan pair of Fasciale and Wainer Apter are expected to move through the Senate in tandem.
Murphy said in his remarks today that the partisan balance of the court is one of its most important features. Long-standing tradition dictates that the court should have no more than four members of any given party at one time, a tradition that Murphy said he fully intends to follow.
“[Fasciale’s] ascension to our state’s highest court will send a strong message to all New Jerseyans, and I hope to leaders throughout our nation, of the importance of judicial independence and impartiality, and of the critical need for restoring balance over partisanship in our courts,” Murphy said.
Scutari has indicated he wants the two Supreme Court nominations to move quickly, with a Senate quorum call scheduled for next Thursday, September 22. In addition to support from Scutari, Fasciale also has the strong backing of State Sen. Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield), another Union County senator.
“You picked the greatest guy you possibly could have, regardless of party affiliation,” Scutari told Murphy at today’s event.
Even if Fasciale and Wainer Apter do get confirmed in record time, though, there’s still another vacancy on the top court that needs filling: the seat formerly held by Albin, a Democrat. There’s also the challenge that, with Fasciale replacing Fernandez-Vina, the court is left without a Hispanic member in a state that’s more than 20% Hispanic.
Justice Lee Solomon, a Republican, is considering stepping down before he turns 70 in 2024, and if he does so, that would clear the way for another bipartisan duo of nominees to sail through the Senate together. But if he sticks around, that could potentially lead to another long delay before the court can finally return to its full seven-member complement.