The race to succeed Thomas Kean, Jr. as minority leader of the New Jersey Senate took a slight turn this morning after one of the potential candidates, State Sen. Robert Singer (R-Lakewood), became the first senator from either party to say he would vote to confirm Gov. Phil Murphy’s nominee to the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Singer announced his support of Rachel Wainer Apter, a former ACLU staff attorney and law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on Sunday night – before Murphy even formally announced his nomination.
That caused another potential candidate, Senate Republican Budget Officer Steve Oroho (R-Franklin), to send a text message to his Senate GOP colleagues asking them to keep their powder dry.
“With all due respect, I would suggest, unless you want to express your opposition to Governor Murphy’s Supreme Court nomination, all Republican Senators withhold any support for the nomination until after our Judiciary Committee members have had an opportunity to review a candidate through their normal process and all caucus members have had the benefit of discussing our members’ assessment,” Oroho wrote to his colleagues.
Senate Minority Whip Joseph Pennacchio (R-Montville), another possible candidate for minority leader, declined to comment on Singer’s statement.
“That’s Bob’s decision,” he said. “We are not monolithic.”
Pennacchio isn’t prepared to say how he’ll vote on Wainer Apter’s nomination.
“I do have concerns about a young person piling on to the activist judges that are already there,” Pennacchio said, citing the top court’s 2020 ruling to allow Gov. Phil Murphy to borrow up to $10 billion during the coronavirus pandemic. “I have a concern with that.”
In November, when Kean was trailing Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) by a little more than 1,000 votes in the race for the 7th district congressional seat, several Republicans, including Singer and Pennacchio, began to seek support for the post.
Oroho told the New Jersey Globe this year that he wasn’t running for the job, but might accept it if the Senate Republican Caucus asked him.
State Sen. Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton) said that he wants to learn more about Wainer Apter before he decides how he’ll vote on confirmation.
“I’m not going to make any comment on the court pick until I’ve had the opportunity to review her,” Bucco said. “I won’t decide until I’ve listened to her testimony and heard from colleagues on the Judiciary Committee.”
One Republican who won’t be in the Senate for another ten days, State Sen.-elect Holly Schepisi (R-River Vale), is in a position to torpedo Murphy’s nomination.
For Wainer Apter to get a confirmation hearing, she’ll need to get sign off from Schepisi and the three Democratic senators from Bergen County.
Under an unwritten rule called senatorial courtesy, the Senate won’t advance the nomination unless every senator with courtesy over the nominee grants their permission.
If Shepisi refuses to sign off on Wainer Apter, the Supreme Court nomination will never get a vote – or Wainer Apter will have to move to a county where there are no Republican senators.