The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously advanced Fabiana Pierre-Louis’s confirmation Monday. The full chamber is expected take up the matter on Thursday.
The nominee faced little in the way of opposition during Monday’s hearing, with Judiciary Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) and State Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Demarest), the committee’s ranking Republican, saying they had heard nothing negative on her nomination.
“If the members had an opportunity to get this nominee, or if they didn’t, they were missing something, because she’s much more than her resume, although that is extremely impressive,” Scutari said. “This nominee brings to the court, I believe, a unique perspective, and not just that. It’s a wonderful personality, and I really enjoyed getting to know the nominee, and I know my staff did as well.”
Based on a tally of public statements and private conversations maintained by the New Jersey Globe, Pierre-Louis has the 21 votes needed to win confirmation.
If confirmed, Pierre-Louis would replace Supreme Court Justice Walter Timpone, who is due to step down from the court on Nov. 1, when he hits the mandatory retirement age of 70, though Timpone has privately signaled a willingness to leave early if Pierre-Louis is confirmed quickly.
In a tweet later, gun safety advocate Fred Guttenberg, whose young daughter was killed in the Parkland shooting in 2018, called on Doherty to apologize.
“I had gotten to know (Phil Murphy) through a family connection after my daughters murder and I have been thankful for his public and private support,” Guttenberg said in a tweet. “You owe an apology.”
Cardinale and State Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Washington) pressed the nominee on politically-charged issues like the Mount Laurel Doctrine and Gov. Phil Murphy’s pandemic-era executive orders, but Pierre-Louis declined to comment on either, saying she believed she ought to avoid even the appearance of bias.
“Are you a communist,” Cardinale asked at one point. Pierre-Louis said she was not.
Doherty, one of the most conservative Republicans in the legislature’s upper chamber pressed Pierre-Louis on that position, charging that an orange ribbon she wore during an event announcing her nomination marked her out as backing gun control, which he said would violate the code of judicial conduct.
The senator said the incident was a show of support for Orange Ribbons for Gun Safety, a pro-gun-control group. Pierre-Louis said she was unaware of the organization and wore the ribbon solely in support of gun violence victims in observance of National Gun Violence Awareness Day.
“Again, senator, I was not my understanding that I was taking any sides or taking a position in putting on that ribbon. It was my understanding that it was in support of gun violence victims, and that was the information I had at the time,” she said. “I’m not familiar with this organization that you’ve mentioned.”
The committee’s Democrats did not launch any similar criticisms at the nominee, though Scutari State Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Palmyra), who represents Pierre-Louis’s home county, sought to head off Doherty’s line of questioning.
If confirmed, Pierre-Louis would be the first black woman to ever sit on New Jersey’s highest court and the first black person to sit on the New Jersey Supreme Court since Gov. Chris Christie declined to renominate Associate Justice John Wallace, for whom Pierre-Louis served as a law clerk early into her career, for a tenured term.
This story was updated at 12:50 PM and 1:38 PM.