Gov. Phil Murphy first nominated Rachel Wainer Apter, the director of the state’s civil rights division, to be a New Jersey Supreme Court justice in March 2021. (Edwin J. Torres/ New Jersey Governor’s Office)
Sen. Holly Schepisi has agreed to release her hold on a Murphy administration nomination to the New Jersey Supreme Court, ending an 18-month standoff over the partisan makeup of the seven-member court.
As part of a deal between Gov. Phil Murphy and Schepisi, Schepisi will allow Murphy’s nomination of Rachel Wainer Apter, a Democrat and the director of the state’s civil rights division, to proceed, and Murphy has agreed to nominate Superior Court Judge Douglas Fasciale, a Republican, to the Supreme Court.
Schepisi, a Bergen County Republican, had been blocking Wainter Apter’s nomination using the unwritten rule of senatorial courtesy, which effectively gives senators veto power over a governor’s nominee in their home county or legislative district.
Schepisi acknowledged criticism she’s received for holding up the appointment but said the delay was about “having a role and a seat at the table to ensure that the historical balance of the court remained.” Traditionally, governors have not permitted the Supreme Court to include more than four members of one political party.
“Along the way, there were different things that took place that caused it to linger a bit, but we have come to a meeting of the minds,” she said. “I agreed for purposes of, one, removing the logjam, but two, based upon assurances that have been made, I do believe that it will be in the best interest of the state and particularly the judiciary and the bar.”
Murphy’s office did not immediately comment on Schepisi’s move, but confirmed Murphy’s nomination of Fasciale. Both nominations will move forward simultaneously.
The news was first reported Friday by the New Jersey Globe.
Fasciale, presiding judge of the civil division in Union County, was appointed earlier this month to sit on the Supreme Court temporarily.
The governor nominated Wainer Apter in March 2021 to replace Jaynee LaVecchia, who retired from the Supreme Court in December. Fasciale is set to replace Faustino Fernandez-Vina, who stepped down in February after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Since Fernandez-Vina’s retirement, the court has lost another justice, Barry Albin, who turned 70 in July. Justice Lee Solomon is expected to retire in the next two years.
Nominees must appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a bipartisan panel of 11 senators, before moving forward to the Senate floor for approval. The next scheduled meeting of the judiciary committee is October 13.
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