At 35, Matt Platkin is the youngest confirmed attorney general in New Jersey's history. (Edwin J. Torres | New Jersey Governor’s Office)
Matt Platkin, one of Gov. Phil Murphy’s earliest advisers and former chief counsel for the administration, was confirmed by the state Senate Thursday as the state’s attorney general Thursday, even as Republicans continued to criticize him until moments before the vote.
Platkin’s nomination was approved 24-10, largely along party lines, with Republican Sens. Jon Bramnick, Vincent Polistina, and Robert Singer crossing the aisle to support him as the state’s top law enforcement officer.
In a statement, Platkin called the Senate’s support “the honor of a lifetime.”
“I pledge to continue to work tirelessly to end the scourge of gun violence, to strengthen trust between law enforcement and the broader public, and to protect the rights of our residents,” he said.
The new attorney general has faced heavy criticism since he was nominated by Murphy in February, a nomination that led to a six-month stalemate after two of Platkin’s home county representatives wouldn’t sign off on the appointment, using an unwritten legislative rule that allows senators to indefinitely block some nominees. Both senators relented in August.
Unlike most other states, New Jersey’s attorney general is appointed, not elected.
Republicans have criticized Platkin over his handling of a rape allegation while he served as Murphy’s chief counsel, his age and lack of experience, and his liberal views on abortion and immigration. The intense disagreement over whether Platkin can handle the job was still evident at Thursday’s Senate session.
Platkin “is bright and does have a very good future. However, brightness doesn’t equal the experience required to oversee 1,700 employees as the state’s chief legal officer,” Sen. Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen) said.
Schepisi pointed to a legislative report finding he mishandled the rape allegation and made “sloppy” legal decisions as one of the main reasons she voted against confirming him.
Platkin was heavily scrutinized for his role in investigating the 2018 allegation that campaign staffer Al Alvarez had raped Katie Brennan, a former volunteer on the governor’s 2017 campaign. Brennan reported the claim to Platkin, who ultimately decided not to tell Murphy. Alvarez, who denies the allegation, stepped down from his six-figure government job after Brennan went public with her allegation.
Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Warren) on Thursday suggested Platkin crossed a line when he supported Murphy in closing houses of worship — but keeping liquor stores open — after coronavirus cases started multiplying in New Jersey in March 2020.
“One other troubling trend I see with Platkin is you can pick and choose what laws you want to adhere to and apply,” Doherty said.
Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex) — one of the lawmakers who contributed to the confirmation hold-up — responded to Doherty’s claim by saying, “I didn’t give a damn what the Constitution said.”
“Nobody, no governor in the history of this state been hit with something like that. Now we’re going to criticize, that’s easy. And how it plays into Mr. Platkin because he was counsel to the governor? I don’t get it,” Codey said. “Let’s give this young man the opportunity to do what’s right.”
Platkin, 35, is the youngest confirmed attorney general in New Jersey history. Some Republicans took issue with his lack of experience and suggested he turn to more veteran officials in the Attorney General’s Office for advice.
Doherty compared Platkin’s eight years of experience as a member of the bar to the 10-year requirement for Superior Court judges.
“I think we’re diverting from that standard here today,” said Doherty. “Mr. Platkin would not be qualified to be a Superior Court judge, and here we’re moving him into being the top law enforcement officer in the entire state of New Jersey.”
Democrats lauded Platkin, saying he’s proved himself since taking on the role of acting attorney general in February. Since then, he has launched a new office to sue firearm companies over gun deaths if they’re in violation of the law, created a division devoted to helping sexual assault and domestic violence victims, and reversed an administrative directive from 2021 in an attempt to halt a rise in car thefts.
Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) commended Platkin for most recently being up at 5:30 a.m. to send off State Troopers to aid Puerto Ricans suffering from the devastation from Hurricane Fiona.
“I have seen this individual step into a space and understand what that level of having that title means, not solely for the purpose of having it, but for the purpose of putting the people of New Jersey first,” she said.
The Senate on Thursday also approved a bill that seeks to improve how quickly unemployment payments are paid out. It was unanimously approved by both chambers in June, but Murphy issued a conditional veto after the U.S. Department of Labor said it doesn’t meet federal standards.
The measure — headed to the Assembly now for its approval — would update the amount of time employers can respond to questions about unemployment claims and increase fines for unresponsive employers from $25 every 10 days to $500 daily.
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