Gov. Phil Murphy has selected Michael Noriega as his next pick for the New Jersey Supreme Court, his fourth since 2020.
Noriega is a former North Jersey public defender and immigration rights advocate who handled litigation for the American Civil Liberties Union and who currently is a partner at Bramnick, Rodriguez, Grabas, Arnold & Mangan, the Scotch Plains law firm headed by State Sen. Jon Bramnick (R-21).
“I know that the individuals who are selected to serve on the New Jersey Supreme Court will shape our state for decades to come,” said Murphy during the announcement on May 15. “As a former public defender and one of New Jersey’s most highly respected criminal defense and immigration law attorneys, Michael Noriega will bring extensive trial experience and a history of practice across our legal system to the judiciary.”
Noriega is Murphy’s fourth pick for the seven member New Jersey Supreme Court since taking office in 2018. He nominated Fabiana Pierre-Louis in 2020, Rachel Wainer Apter in 2021, and Douglas Fasciale, a Republican, in 2022.
First Public Defender
Murphy said that he looked for a nominee that had the same experience that Albin had brought to the court and said the Union County Democrat extolls those same virtues .
“As I undertook the search to find Justice Albin’s successor, I wanted to ensure that his perspectives as a trial practitioner and criminal defense attorney would not leave the Court with him,” said Murphy. “I wanted someone who didn’t just learn how our judicial system works in a textbook, but had the real-world experience of fighting for their clients and giving them the representation they are entitled to under the law.”
Noriega, who would become the third Hispanic to serve on the New Jersey Supreme Court and the first since Justice Faustino Fernandez-Vina retired on February 15, 2022, would be the first public defender of the 47 justices who have served on the state’s top court.
“There are no words that can fully capture the tremendous privilege of being nominated to serve on the New Jersey Supreme Court,” said the 45-year-old Noriega. “Our Supreme Court has received national recognition for its intellectual rigor and forward-thinking decisions and I promise to do everything in my power to continue that long and storied tradition.”
A graduate of Rutgers University and Seton Hall Law School, Noriega is an adjunct law professor at Seton Hall and a Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey member. He grew up in Union City in Hudson County, the hometown of State Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian P. Stack.
He was an assistant deputy public defender in Essex County from 2003 to 2008 and would be the first Supreme Court justice born in Hudson County since Marie Garibaldi retired in 2000.
Essex County Start
At the announcement, Noriega spoke about his first time trying a case as an Essex County Public Defender in 2003.
He recounted that he argued for his client that the reason he violated probation was because his grandmother died. But the judge pointed out that the client’s same grandmother had died on two other occasions and he was not accepting that excuse.
“My client was led away in handcuffs, but not before seeing my crestfallen face and patting me on the back saying, ‘It’s ok, at least you tried’,” Noriega said. “I hope that I have done more than try in this career. I pray and hope that I have had a sincere positive impact on our legal system and the lives of the people that I have represented over these past 20 years.
“But now, my commitment is to all of the people of New Jersey, as I bring to bear my knowledge and experience to help shoulder this enormous responsibility I am honored to undertake.”
While Pierre-Louis and Fasciale’s approval by the State Senate were relatively swift, Wainer Apter was held up by State Sen. Holly Schepisi with a Senatorial hold for over a year. Schepisi said she held the nomination of Wainer Apter to ensure the 70-year tradition of having a political power balance on the state’s highest court and only relented when Wainer Apter, a Democrat, was moved forward with Fasciale, a Republican.
Murphy is expected to get one more Supreme Court nomination when Justice Lee Solomon turns 70 in August 2024. If Murphy continues to maintain the tradition of a balanced court, it is expected he will choose a Republican when Solomon retires next Summer.
Bramnick, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he will support the nomination “without any doubt.”
“Michael is a person of the highest integrity,” Bramnick said at the announcement. “He is extremely sincere, extremely kind, and extremely generous. He has every quality we would want as a Supreme Court Justice.”