In Brief

N.J. Supreme Court chief justice won’t fill vacancy on court

By: - February 16, 2022 3:00 pm

Faustino J. Fernandez-Vina (Courtesy of New Jersey Courts)

New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner won’t appoint a second temporary member to the state’s highest judicial body following the retirement of Associate Justice Faustino Fernandez-Vina.

Rabner’s decision leaves the court with six members until Gov. Phil Murphy nominates a replacement approved by the state Senate, which has yet to act on Murphy’s last Supreme Court nomination.

In a statement, Rabner noted New Jersey’s governors have abided by a tradition that no more than four members of the Supreme Court can be affiliated with a single political party, and the only judge Rabner can appoint to fill the vacancy is a Democrat who would shift the court’s ideological balance.

“In keeping with that valued tradition, I am not assigning an additional member of the Appellate Division to fill the vacancy created by Justice Fernandez-Vina’s mandatory retirement,” he said.

Fernandez Vina, who served on the high court for more than eight years, stepped down after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70 on Tuesday.

This is the second vacancy for the high court in the last 12 months. Now-former Justice Jaynee LaVecchia announced her retirement in May 2021 and stepped down in December. Murphy has nominated Rachel Wainer Apter, the director of the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights, as LaVecchia’s replacement, but her nomination has not been heard by lawmakers.

A senior Murphy administration official told the New Jersey Monitor the governor’s office is focused on shepherding Wainer Apter’s nomination through the Senate, and no nomination for Fernandez-Vina’s seat will be made until she is confirmed. Murphy declined to comment Wednesday.

Rabner named Justice Jose Fuentes as LaVecchia’s temporary replacement in January.

Wainer Apter’s nomination stalled after Sen. Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen) invoked senatorial courtesy to block her confirmation. Senatorial courtesy is an unwritten rule that allows upper-chamber legislators to indefinitely block gubernatorial nominees from their legislative district or home county. They do not have to give a reason.

Schepisi last month indicated she and the administration were nearing a deal to give Wainer Apter’s nomination the green light. In return, the Bergen County senator wants a commitment that Murphy will maintain the court’s historical partisan balance.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.