On a morning where state officials invoked U.S. Court Supreme Justice civil rights lions Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Thurgood Marshall, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Rachel Wainer Apter as his nominee to fill a vacancy on the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Wainer Apter would take the seat of Associate Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, who will retire at the end of the current court term Aug. 31. The appointment will first be sent to the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Judicial and Prosecutorial Appointments Committee and, if approved, proceed to advice and consent in the State Senate.
Wainer Apter, a native of Rockaway, currently serves as in the state’s Attorney General’s office as Director of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. Prior to her current role, Wainer Apter served as Counsel to the Attorney General, advising on civil rights and immigration matters, including leading the New Jersey team that defeated a motion by Texas and seven other states to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
“The law is not simply a subject to be debated or a puzzle to be solved, but something that profoundly impacts the lives of individual people each day,” said Wainer Apter, who currently lives in Englewood with her husband Jonathan and three children. “The cases that the New Jersey Supreme Court hears concern issues of fundamental importance to our state and to all of us as individuals, including how our society will live up to the promise of equal justice under the law.”
This is Murphy’s second nomination in the last year to the highest court in the state. Fabiana Pierre-Louis, nominated in June 2020, became the first Black woman to seat on New Jersey’s Supreme Court when she was sworn in Sept. 1, 2020.
In making his announcement, the governor keyed on Wainer Apter’s career as a law clerk for Justice Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court and following in her former bosses footsteps as a civil rights lawyer.
“In the wake of Justice Ginsburg’s passing, the advances in civil rights that she spent a lifetime fighting for are under threat in Washington,” said Murphy in making the announcement at Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hall at Rutgers–Newark March 15. “State courts have never mattered more…Over the past few years, Rachel has defended New Jersey’s DREAMers in federal court, drove Facebook to confront hate speech on its platform, and proposed reforms to prevent sexual harassment. I know she will continue to serve all New Jerseyans on our state’s highest court.”
Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver evoked another civil rights hero in praising Wainer Apter—using Justice Marshall’s quote “History teaches that grave threats to liberty often come in times of urgency, when constitutional rights seem too extravagant to endure.”
“Justices Marshall and Ginsburg never served together on the United States Supreme Court, but their individual efforts to create the elusive “more perfect Union” of our federal Constitution ran on parallel tracks,” said Oliver. “We must ensure these tracks run throughout the state of New Jersey. And with Rachel Wainer Apter on our highest court, we can ensure they will.”
Wainer Apter received the backing of the three elected state officials from her legislative district, with State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37) praising her work as Law Director of the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights.
“She has an outstanding educational background and is a highly accomplished civil rights lawyer,” said Weinberg of the Harvard Law graduate. “Having begun her career as a law clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I know her career has been dedicated to a fight for equality. The governor has made a fine nomination and I look forward to meeting with her very soon.“
Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle offered her congratulations “from one Englewood girl to another.”
“As Director of the Division on Civil Rights, Rachel Wainer Apter has been at the forefront of combating hate crime and injustice in New Jersey,” said Vainieri Huttle. “I have been honored to work alongside Rachel on these important issues and I am confident that she will continue to serve as a leader for justice as an Associate Justice on the New Jersey Supreme Court.”
Lagana Reserves Judgement
According to Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, Wainer Apter’s experiences including as a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union will help bring a “vital breadth of perspective” to New Jersey’s highest court.
“When we look for diversity in our judicial system, we do not just look for diversity in race or gender, but for diversity in experience and perspective,” Johnson said. “This is a great choice by Governor Murphy and a proud day for both my hometown of Englewood and all of New Jersey.”
State Sen. Joseph Lagana (D-38) stated he needed to meet with the nominee before signing off on her nomination. Lagana is one of four Bergen County senators—along with State Sens. Weinberg, Kristin Corrado (R-40) and State Sen.-elect Holly Schepisi (R-39)—with senatorial courtesy over Wainer Apter who can hold up the nomination.
“I need to do my due diligence to learn more about her,” said Lagana. “I don’t know anything about her. What I’ve read about her—I like what I see.”