Fabiana Pierre-Louis coasted to confirmation Thursday to become the first Black woman to serve on the New Jersey Supreme Court.
The full state Senate voted, 39-0, to approve Gov. Phil Murphy’s pick to be the next associate justice on the state’s highest court. She will be the third Black judge to join the court in the state’s 244-year history. She also will be the youngest justice on the current court.
“Today is a historic day, ” said State Sen. Troy Singleton, (D., Burlington). He said Pierre-Louis was uniquely qualified and “not just because of the color of her skin.”
When Murphy, a Democrat, nominated her in June, he said Pierre-Louis wasn’t selected because of nationwide protests over police brutality and systemic racism, noting that the vetting process takes months. Her confirmation Thursday came amid renewed unrest following the shooting of Jacob Blake, a young Black man, by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wis.
“I am honored to have put her name forward, and to see someone with a different set of life experiences and perspectives on our Supreme Court, a judicial body where New Jerseyans from all walks of life turn for justice,” Murphy said in a statement.
Sen. Shirley K. Turner (D., Mercer) compared Thursday’s historic vote to the nomination of Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, the first woman of color on a major party ticket.
“Hopefully, it won’t be the last,” said Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester). “There should never be a reason why there is one African American, one Latino, one Asian.”
Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R., Passaic) joined in praising Pierre-Louis, but said: “I don’t believe we should vote for her because of diversity. We should vote for her because of her ability.”
Pierre-Louis, 39, of Mount Laurel, will take the seat on the seven-member court being vacated by Justice Walter Timpone, who will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 in November. Timpone is expected to step down to allow her to join the court’s next session, which begins Sept. 1.
She will take the seat once held by Justice John Wallace Jr., for whom she clerked. Wallace, at the timethe court’s lone Black jurist, was ousted in 2010 when Gov. Chris Christie broke tradition and refused to renominate him.
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“This nomination is truly a nomination of a lifetime for me,” she told lawmakers at a Judiciary Committee hearing earlier in the week.
Flanked by her husband, Robbie, and two young sons, she received a standing ovation as she emerged from the back of the Senate floor to pose for photographs with Senate leaders after Thursday’s vote.
Her selection will not significantly alter the court’s ideological composition. Of the remaining justices on the bench, four were appointed by Christie, and two by Democratic governors.
At age 39, she could sit on the bench for decades, and possibly ascend to be the court’s chief justice. The next youngest justice is 20 years her senior.
“It’s potentially transformative,” said attorney Charles Davidson,head of the Pre-Law Institute at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “She’s going to bring something to the court that now, more than ever, we need.”
Pierre-Louis is a partner with the law firm Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads in Cherry Hill. She served nine years as an assistant U.S. attorney in New Jersey and held leadership roles as attorney-in-charge of the Trenton and Camden offices. She was the first woman of color to hold those positions.
The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Pierre-Louis has cited her humble beginnings for her work ethic. Her father was a taxi driver in New York and her mother was a patient transport aide in a hospital.
Pierre-Louis received her bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University in New Brunswick and her law degree from the Rutgers-Camden Law School, graduating with high honors. She began her career in 2007 as an associate at Montgomery McCracken. She returned as a partner in 2019, handling white-collar crime, commercial litigation, and government investigations.