Murphy may have to re-nominate New Jersy Supreme Court pick or make another choice. After being stalled for nearly 10 months, it appears unlikely Gov. Phil Murphy’s latest nominee to the New Jersey Supreme Court will be confirmed in the final week of the current legislative session.
That sets up a possible showdown on the makeup of the Garden State’s highest court — and Murphy’s role in shaping it — over the coming months.
Murphy nominated civil rights attorney Rachel Wainer Apter, a fellow Democrat, last March to succeed Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, an independent who left the bench Friday. But it’s up to the state Senate to confirm her.
If the Senate doesn’t take up her nomination in the final days before the current lame-duck voting session ends at noon Jan. 11, Murphy will have to either re-nominate Wainer Apter or nominate someone else after the next state Legislature is sworn in.
In an interview with NJ Advance Media on Monday, outgoing Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, suggested her confirmation is improbable in the next seven days because state Sen. Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen, has not signed off on the nomination. Sweeney said he “doubts” Schepisi’s position will change “at this point.”
In New Jersey, senators from a nominee’s home county have senatorial courtesy, meaning they can stop that nominee from advancing. Wainer Apter lives in Bergen County, parts of which Schepisi represents.
“It’s not me,” added Sweeney, who is set to leave office Jan. 11 after losing re-election. “I committed from the day he nominated her that I’d put her up as soon as she was ready.”
Schepisi told NJ Advance Media she is having “continuing communications with the governor’s office regarding ensuring balance” on the Supreme Court. The senator also said she has concerns about “some of the positions” Wainer Apter has advocated for in the past, though she did not specify which.
Wainer Apter is a former law clerk to the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She has also been the director of the state Division of Civil Rights and an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.
If she’s confirmed, Wainer Apter would would shift the makeup of the court from three Republicans, three Democrats, and one independent to four Democrats and three Republicans.
“We’ve had some pretty robust discussions regarding (the nomination),” Schepisi said. “There is potentially a pathway to get my support. But we still have some work to do to get there.”
“Our Supreme Court has extraordinary power,” she added. “If we’re going to put someone on here who could be there for three decades shaping policy, we need to ensure it’s a balanced judiciary and it’s not an activist court.”
This would be the second of three Supreme Court nominations Murphy would choose during his tenure.
The governor already had one nominee, Fabiana Pierre-Louis, confirmed to the bench. In 2020, Pierre-Louis became the first Black woman to serve on the court in New Jersey history.
And in addition to the Wainer Apter nomination, Justice Faustino Fernandez-Vina, a Republican, is set to reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 on Feb. 15. Murphy would get to nominate his successor, as well.
Both Pierre-Louis and Wainer Apter are in their early 40s and are about three decades away from the court’s retirement age. That means Murphy could help determine the court’s makeup for years to come.
Though governors and top lawmakers have traditionally sought to keep a partisan balance on the Supreme Court, there is no law requiring it.
Republicans have privately expressed concern about Murphy, an avowed progressive, shifting the court too far to the left. Murphy could theoretically pick a Democrat for Fernandez-Vina’s seat, too — though he not yet indicated whom he may nominate.
Murphy, who will be sworn in to a second term Jan. 18, said Monday he had “no update” on either Wainer Apter’s nomination or Fernandez-Vina’s retirement.
“We’ve enjoyed and we continue to enjoy very good partnership and deliberations with our legislative colleagues,” Murphy said during his latest COVID-19 briefing. “And I’m confident we’ll have a good result.”
In the meantime, Chief Justice announced Monday that state Superior Court Judge Jose Fuentes will serve on the Supreme Court temporarily until Wainer Apter or someone else is confirmed to replace LaVecchia.
While residents of South Jersey are still digging out from a hard-hitting snowstorm that dumped a half foot to nearly a foot of snow on Monday, forecasters say another winter storm could bring snow to the New Jersey region and other parts of the eastern United States later this week.
“The next storm brewing has the potential to bring snow to areas that were missed by the early-week storm from the Ohio Valley into the Northeast, and there is a possibility for more snow to reach portions of the Interstate 95 corridor,” AccuWeather forecasters said Monday afternoon.
The storm they are monitoring is expected to move from the western U.S. towards our region late Thursday or early Friday and could take a path up the East Coast, said AccuWeather meteorologist Bernie Rayno.
“I’m convinced there will be a storm Thursday into Friday,” Rayno said, but he and other forecasters stress that the storm’s track and intensity remain uncertain as of late Monday.
If the storm moves up the coast, it “would unleash snow over areas west of the I-95 corridor — and the interior mid-Atlantic and New England would be in for a dose of wintry weather,” AccuWeather noted in a forecast report. “That scenario would also spell a stronger storm system.”
However, AccuWeather forecasters say there’s also a possibility the storm could be a weak one that moves “straight east and out to sea from the Mid-Atlantic.”
Given that we’re in the high point of the coronavirus surge and, due to holiday family and friend get-togethers, we’re seeing a high number of new COVID-19 infections.
In response, some New Jersey school districts are putting in temporary remote learning for the next one or two weeks. My son’s school district (Marlboro Township) is not. As of this writing, it’s choosing to wait until the cases come in. Unfortunately, this will be too late for many families, where even those of us who are vaccinated and “bolstered” can get the virus and its devastating long-term effects.
It’s important that New Jersey, statewide, follow the lead of these school districts that have chosen virtual learning, with a two-week remote learning option for all. Again, this would be only short-term, and is in line with the fact that this month will see many new infections.
Other important factors for allowing a remote option include that the Food and Drug Administration is looking to approve Pfizer vaccine boosters for 12-to-15-year-olds this week (it did so late Monday); testing shortages exist now, but are expected to ease by end of January; recently approved medicines for treating COVID-19 symptoms will become more widely available.
A ShopRite employee was charged with stabbing a colleague multiple times during an attack at the Clark store where they worked, police said Monday.
Melissa Prince, 57, of Edison faces attempted murder, aggravated assault and weapons offenses, according to Clark police.
Officers rushed to the Central Avenue store around 3:45 p.m. Sunday for a report of an employee wounded at the deli department, authorities said.
In a news release, police said the accused assailant was immediately arrested and the attack “could be the result of an altercation.”
The injured employee was listed in critical, but stable condition at University Hospital in Newark, according to police. ShopRite spokesperson Maureen Gillespie said store staff and an off-duty state trooper rushed to help. “Sadly, we can confirm that an associate was assaulted by another associate during an incident that occurred at the store on Sunday,” Gillespie said in a statement.