During a rare August hearing, the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday moved to advance acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin’s nomination through to the full Senate by an 8-2 bipartisan vote, which included one Republican, Sen. Jon Bramnick.
While the outcome of the Aug. 8 vote was a mere formality, it has not been a swift process for Platkin to reach this point since he was nominated by Gov. Phil Murphy in February. The Montclair native’s recommendation required sign-off from Essex County’s four state senators, and only recently received the greenlight from former Gov. and current state Sen. Richard Codey, D-27th District, and Sen. Nia Gill, D-34th-District, who spoke highly of the 35-year-old when she introduced him to the committee.
“Given Mr. Platkin’s background, which we are all familiar with, we know he comes obviously qualified, committed to serve, and prepared to advance the rule of law and justice,” said Gill. “So, to this committee, I present to you, Mr. Platkin.”
“As I said when I had the honor of being nominated to this position, the pursuit of justice has been my life’s calling,” Platkin said during his opening remarks. “And in this role, I am fortunate to wake up every day to lead a team of thousands of women and men committed to that pursuit.”
“And I hope to show you today that my skills, values, commitment, character and experience will justify the governor’s faith in nominating me to serve the people of this state as attorney general,” he continued.
Even though there was little suspense about whether his nomination would advance or not, it was not a total walk-in-the-park for Platkin, who faced tough and pointed questions on a wide-range of issues from panel Republicans, including Sen. Michael Doherty, R-23rd District; Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-25th-District; and Bramnick, R-21st-District.
Doherty questioned whether Platkin has enough legal experience to handle such a powerful and demanding role.
Platkin conceded that nothing prepares you for the breadth of responsibility that comes with leading an office with more than 17 departments and nearly 8,000 employees, but that he believes his background – plus the last six months being on the job – has prepared him for full confirmation.
“But I can say with conviction that the six months I’ve spent as acting attorney general has only strengthened my view of the talent and commitment of the people who make up this department,” said Platkin. “And I believe that the six months I’ve spent leading this department have shown how I will continue to lead it should I be fortunate enough to proceed today and be confirmed by the full Senate.”
Looking back … and ahead
Platkin – who previously served as the governor’s chief counsel – was questioned on topics including his role in the state’s emergency COVID-19 orders, general crime, public safety, car thefts, bail reform, marijuana, school safety, abortion and the Katie Brennan scandal from Murphy’s first gubernatorial campaign, which Platkin worked on. A scathing 2019 report pointed the finger at many in the Murphy Administration, including Platkin, for failing Brennan.
“This is my opportunity to ask you. So, what I’m hearing is that maybe a mistake was made?” Doherty asked, in reference to the report’s findings. “Maybe if you had to do it over again, you would have advised the governor. And maybe that’s what the policy actually required. Am I wrong there?”
“I said that repeatedly three years ago, and I would say it again here today,” said Platkin. “In hindsight, given everything we know now. Of course, it’s something I would have done differently.”
Bucco questioned Platkin’s focus, referencing out-of-state lawsuits New Jersey has joined about “progressive issues.”
“I appreciate the fact that you recognize public safety as being the No. 1 issue. But it seems to me like that’s not the focus. You’ve heard questions today about police officers feeling that their hands are being tied out there in doing their jobs,” said Bucco. “And it’s a concern for me that we’re losing focus. And that the office is becoming more of a political policy promotion spot than true law enforcement, public safety core issues that I think the attorney general is most responsible for.”
“Of course, the attorney general also has an extraordinarily broad range of responsibilities, and among them is standing up for our residents in court,” Platkin responded. “And it is something that I believe is absolutely appropriate for the attorney general to do. But our department’s focus primarily is keeping residents safe.”
In the end, Platkin was not able to sway Doherty or Bucco, who each voted no.
“I don’t have trust and confidence that you’re going to be evenhanded applying the law and adhering to the constitution,” said Doherty. “So, I am a firm no on Mr. Platkin.”
“On a whole host of issues that were discussed today and that are troubling to me and my belief that he has deviated during his short time as acting attorney general from the core function by focusing more on progressive political policies on a national and local level at the expense of, I think, his public safety and law enforcement,” said Bucco. “For those reasons, unfortunately, I cannot support the nomination and I vote no.”
But Bramnick, the lone Republican to vote yes, said that his party cannot have it both ways.
“We can’t condemn a national trend that attacks judicial candidates based on their philosophy and then choose to vote against a qualified candidate, despite the fact that we all have serious concerns about our policy differences,” Bramnick explained. “And based on that and based on what I believe is the history of this country where we vote for qualified candidates who we disagree with, I vote yes.”
As he voted yes, Senate President Nick Scutari praised Platkin for how he handled himself in the hot seat Monday.
“I think you’ve grown much in the years that you’ve been in Trenton and in the years that you were gone,” said Scutari, D-22nd District. “And I am absolutely certain that you’ll bring all the requisite experience, vigor and intellect to the job to do a wonderful job with it. And you have my utmost confidence in your ability to the do the job. I vote yes.”
“I am grateful for and humbled by the bipartisan support of the Judiciary Committee,” said Platkin in a statement following the vote. “I appreciate the opportunity to answer questions about my priorities as attorney general, and to discuss the recent accomplishments of our office. I want to thank Gov. Murphy for his trust and support in nominating me to serve the people of this state as New Jersey’s attorney general. I look forward to receiving consideration of the full Senate.”
Scutari has indicated that a full Senate vote will take place during the fall legislative session.