State Sens. Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick) and Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro) both said they’ll support Michael Noriega’s nomination to the New Jersey Supreme Court, putting Noriega at 14 yes votes – two-thirds of the way to the 21 votes he’ll need for Senate confirmation.
“I was incredibly impressed by his background and experience, and how he’s going to approach [the law] if he makes it to the Supreme Court,” Zwicker said. “I look forward to voting for him.”
“I spoke to him on the phone this weekend,” Greenstein said. “I thought he sounded very good, and I do plan to support him.”
Senate President Nick Scutari (D-Linden), meanwhile, said he’s given Noriega senatorial courtesy, the unwritten rule that allows state senators to block nominees from their home county or legislative district. As a Union County resident, Noriega had already gotten courtesy from State Sen. Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield), his law partner, but is still awaiting it from State Sen. Joe Cryan (D-Union).
Scutari also indicated that he would vote yes on Noriega’s nomination itself, though he declined to officially guarantee his support.
“I just want to let the process go forward, but I’m certainly suggesting that I’ll be [voting yes],” he said.
Several other senators similarly praised Noriega without confirming that they would vote for him. One of them was State Sen. Mike Testa (R-Vineland), who said he’s worked with Noriega on immigration cases and thinks very highly of him.
“I think he’s an attorney of great character, someone I lean on for immigration issues,” Testa said. “I’m going to interview him further because of my position on the Judiciary Committee, but my cursory review of him and his credentials is that he’s a phenomenal candidate.”
State Sen. Bob Smith (D-Piscataway) also said that he was impressed by Noriega but that he’d wait a little longer to determine how he’ll vote.
“Everything I can see by his resume and reputation is that he’ll be a fine addition to the court,” Smith said. “But I’ll wait until the hearing to make a final decision.”
Eight more state senators asked about Noriega by the New Jersey Globe either declined to comment or said they hadn’t reviewed the nomination yet: State Sens. Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton), Renee Burgess (D-Irvington), Kristin Corrado (R-Totowa), Ed Durr (R-Logan), Nellie Pou (D-Paterson), Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge), Holly Schepisi (R-River Vale), and Shirley Turner (D-Lawrence).
Finally, State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Montville) was the one senator who signaled he might potentially vote no on Noriega, though he said he hasn’t yet had the chance to thoroughly consider his nomination.
“I want to be very particular about who we put up there,” Pennacchio said. “I find that a lot of the bad stuff that’s happening in this state is codified by the Supreme Court or is directly the result of the Supreme Court. The days of rubber-stamping are over.”
With support from Greenstein and Zwicker, Noriega – who was nominated by Gov. Phil Murphy just a week ago – now only needs seven more senators to get to the magic number of 21, plus courtesy from Cryan. Assuming that supportive senators like Scutari and Testa eventually do decide to vote for him, that puts Noriega even closer.
Scutari said he doesn’t have a clear timeline yet for when Noriega might come before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but he added that there are unlikely to be major roadblocks to his nomination.
“The process is still going on, but as soon as possible,” he said. “I don’t see any hiccups, we just have to go through the normal vetting process for something of that import. I think he’ll forward expeditiously, I hope.”