The New Jersey Supreme Court moved closer to getting back to a full roster, as the Senate confirmed Gov. Phil Murphy’s two nominees, Rachel Wainer Apter and Douglas Fasciale, on Oct. 17.
The confirmations come after a long delay amid political maneuvering, which has the left court with multiple vacancies that have been filled with temporarily reassigned Appellate Division judges. Monday’s vote cuts the vacancies down to just one.
Last month, NJBIZ reported the nomination of Fasciale, a 61-year-old Superior Court judge from Westfield. The choice of Fasciale, a Republican, helped break a year-and-a-half standoff over the nomination of Wainer Apter, a Democrat, whose nomination was held up by Sen. Holly Schepisi, R-39th District, using the unwritten senatorial courtesy rule that effectively gives senators veto power over a nominee from their home county, in this case Bergen.
The nomination of Fasciale paved the way for the hold on Wainer Apter, who was nominated in March 2021, to be lifted and for the two to move through their confirmations in tandem.
Fasciale was unanimously confirmed by the chamber, while Wainer Apter was confirmed on a 23-14 vote, mostly along party lines, with Sen. Bob Singer, R-30th District, the lone Republican to vote for her. Republicans have criticized Wainer Apter as being too liberal and too inexperienced for the bench. Wainer Apter serves as the director of the state Division on Civil Rights.
“I am incredibly pleased that the state Senate has confirmed both Rachel Wainer Apter and Douglas Fasciale with bipartisan support to serve as Associate Justices of the New Jersey Supreme Court,” said Murphy in a statement. “I congratulate them both and have complete confidence that they will serve our state and the cause of justice with distinction. They are both incredible legal talents, having already proven their intellects in different parts of our legal system. Moreover, they are both exceptionally good people, deserving of this honor.”
Murphy also noted the long wait that the 42-year-old Wainer Apter had to endure before finally getting confirmed.
“I also must acknowledge the extraordinary grace and fortitude that Rachel has demonstrated over the last year and a half as she waited for this day,” said Murphy. “This display of character has made me even prouder to have put her name forward.”
The governor said that the addition of the two justices to the state’s high court guarantees that the hard work of ensuring equal justice for all residents can continue.
“Moreover, 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,” said Murphy.
The governor also thanked Senate President Nick Scutari, D-22nd District, and Judiciary Committee Chair Brian Stack, D-33rd District, for partnering to make it through what became a marathon process.
“And I thank every senator who put our prized judiciary above partisan politics and voted to approve these two exceptional nominees to the New Jersey Supreme Court,” Murphy added.
In a statement, Scutari offered high praise for both of the new justices.
“Douglas Fasciale is a highly respected appellate court judge with extensive courtroom experience as a jurist and attorney,” the Senate president said. “He has a distinguished record as a presiding judge of both the criminal and civil divisions, as a Superior Court judge, and as a practicing attorney. He knows the law, values the role of the judiciary and makes sound judgements. I am confident that he will excel as a member of the Supreme Court.”
“Rachel Wainer Apter has an outstanding educational background and is a highly accomplished civil rights lawyer who has dedicated her professional life to the fight for equal treatment under the law,” Scutari continued. “She will serve in the finest legal traditions of our state’s highest court, where she will use her talents effectively and honorably.”
Fasciale and Wainer Apter will both serve seven-year terms.