Home>Governor>With lame duck session in full swing, Wainer Apter’s time is running out

Gov. Phil Murphy announces his intention to nominate Rachel Wainer Apter to the New Jersey Supreme Court at the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hall, Rutgers University-Newark on March 15th, 2021 (Photo: Edwin J. Torres/ NJ Governor’s Office.)

With lame duck session in full swing, Wainer Apter’s time is running out

By Joey Fox, November 15 2021 3:41 pm

It’s been 245 days since Gov. Phil Murphy nominated Rachel Wainer Apter to the New Jersey Supreme Court – and with the lame duck session beginning last week, he now has only 56 days to turn that nomination into reality.

Wainer Apter was nominated to fill the seat of retiring Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, who was appointed by former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman in 2000. But though Murphy’s selection drew support from most Democratic legislators, it foundered against the obstacle of senatorial courtesy: State Sen. Holly Schepisi (R-River Vale), who is from Wainer Apter’s home county of Bergen, has not given her approval of the nomination.

In the time since, Wainer Apter has been stuck in limbo, and the legislature went into a long, campaign-oriented recess in June without clearly making her nomination a priority.

If the lame duck session ends and Wainer Apter remains unconfirmed, the process will have to start again, potentially with some added challenges. For one, Murphy will have to renominate Wainer Apter or, if he comes to see her path forward as an impossible one, choose another nominee in her stead.

He’ll also have to contend with a new legislature: Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) will be gone, replaced by State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden), while Scutari’s judiciary committee chairmanship will go to State Sen. Brian Stack (D-Union City). Democrats will have smaller overall legislative margins to work with, too, after losing a net seven seats in last week’s elections.

And LaVecchia herself presents an issue. When Wainer Apter’s nomination stumbled, LaVecchia agreed to delay her retirement until the end of the year so that the court wouldn’t be understaffed, but there’s no guarantee she’d agree to delay it any further.

Murphy has maintained the confidence he’s long been projecting about Wainer Apter’s chances, though when asked about the nomination today he provided few new concrete details.

“Rachel Wainer Apter is an outstanding nominee to the Supreme Court, and I remain extremely confident, working with our very good partners in the Senate, that that will have a happy ending,” he said. “I could not be more proud to stand by her.”

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