Lawmakers confirm two for New Jersey Supreme Court seats

By: - October 17, 2022 4:30 pm

Judge Douglas Fasciale and Rachel Wainer Apter were confirmed Monday for seats on the New Jersey Supreme Court. (Hal Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

The state Senate confirmed two New Jersey Supreme Court nominees Thursday, filling seats that remained empty for months amid political wheeling and cutting the high court’s vacancies to one.

The chamber voted unanimously to confirm Appellate Division Judge Douglas Fasciale. New Jersey Division on Civil Rights Director Rachel Wainer Apter’s confirmation was opposed by every Republican present in the chamber save Sen. Robert Singer (R-Ocean), and many spoke against the Englewood resident from the floor, who was confirmed by a vote of 23-14.

“At a time when faith in many of our nation’s core democratic institutions is in doubt, most distressingly the United States Supreme Court, their confirmations send a strong message that in New Jersey we continue our proud tradition of a balanced Supreme Court, choosing our justices across party lines from the best lawyers and judges in our state,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement.

From the floor, Republican senators questioned whether Wainer Apter, a Democrat who was first nominated to the high court in March 2021, has the experience or temperament for the job.

Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Warren) charged participation as an amicus in immigration, political gerrymandering, and abortion cases shows she is too political to sit on the bench. He also attacked her over an appearance at an abortion rights protest held 15 years ago when Wainer Apter was a law student.

“The problem here, Senate president, is we have a nominee who is way outside of the mainstream,” Doherty said. “We as the Legislature should realize that there is a political branch of government. It’s called the Legislature.”

Other Republicans questioned whether the nominee has enough experience in New Jersey courtrooms to sit on the state’s Supreme Court.

Wainer Apter, a former U.S. Supreme Court law clerk and one-time ACLU senior staff attorney, has practiced law in New York, California, and Washington, D.C. She has worked for the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office since early 2018.

“No doubt Miss Apter has the legal experience, just not in our state, not in New Jersey,” said Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-Passaic). “Her Ivy League degrees are not a substitute for years of New Jersey experience as an attorney or time on the bench.

No Democrats spoke in support of Wainer Apter from the Senate floor, a matter of some small surprise given the political tremors that have gripped her nomination for many of the months it sat awaiting Senate action.

State Sen. Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen), who was not among the GOP senators to speak from the floor Monday, stalled the nomination for nearly 18 months with an invocation of senatorial courtesy before relenting in September as part of a deal to see Fasciale, a Republican, nominated to the Supreme Court.

Fasciale’s confirmation sped through the chamber. Only a single member, Sen. Jon Bramnick (R-Union), rose to comment before the unanimous vote.

“He was born a judge, and I believe he will reflect the values of the state of New Jersey,” Bramnick said.

Both Fasciale and Wainer Apter will serve seven-year terms. If they’re renominated and confirmed in 2029, they can serve until the mandatory retirement age of 70. That’s not much time for the 61-year-old Fasciale, but it is for Wainer Apter, who is in her early 40s.

The confirmations still leave a vacant seat on the Supreme Court, one that for now will be filled by a temporarily reassigned Appellate Division judge. It’s not clear when Murphy will make a nomination to that seat.

“I do not know where he is on that process,” said Senate President Nicholas Scutari. “We wanted to get this logjam done, and we did.”

An earlier version of this story said every Senate Republican voted against Rachel Wainer Apter’s confirmation. Sen. Robert Singer (R-Ocean) voted yes.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.