Nominee closer to becoming first black woman on NJ high court

A unanimous ‘yes’ vote from the state Senate Judiciary Committee moves 39-year-old Fabiana Pierre-Louis a step closer to becoming the first black woman to serve on New Jersey’s highest court.

“I understand the importance and magnitude of my nomination to the highest court in the state,” she said. “To be part of the judiciary, one of the three co-equal branches that make our government work, is an important task.”

Pierre-Louis is the daughter of Haitian immigrants. She’s a wife, mother, partner in a law firm, and she’s done a couple stints in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. She told the committee she’s both prosecuted cases and represented defendants.

“I believe that my life experiences have also prepared me to look at issues and cases from a wide range of perspectives,” Pierre-Louis said.

Senators were not shy saying what they thought of Pierre-Louis.

“I want to say, first off, that I would have been wrong, probably, with the first thing that I said that I thought you were too young,” said Sen. Nicholas Scutari. “I believe that your experience belies your age,”

The committee’s ranking Republican tried to pin down Pierre-Louis on why judicial nominees are reluctant to answer questions if those answers don’t bind their decisions on the court. He cited his opposition to the Mount Laurel decision that paves the way for more affordable housing across the state.

“If I’m confirmed, and I’m sitting on the court, I would not want a case to come before me and the litigants before that case, to have the impression that I already have a biased view,” she said.

Sen. Gerald Cardinale said the Mount Laurel decision was not appropriate to force on communities. When asking Pierre-Louis how a court could justify such a ruling, he asked Pierre-Louis if she was a communist.

“No, senator, I am not,” she replied.

Another Republican pressed the nominee on the constitutionality of the pandemic executive orders of the governor who nominated her.

“He recently made sweeping changes to how we’re going to conduct the election in November. Even though the state Constitution clearly says that the Legislature has a role in establishing how the election is conducted,” said Sen. Mike Doherty. “And the federal Constitution, the U.S. Constitution, states that the Legislature absolutely should be involved. And so are you concerned when you have a governor that when he makes executive order decisions — he was asked like, ‘Why can people go to Walmart?’ “Why can people go to liquor stores and congregate there?’ Yet, they can attend church. And we had a governor that said, ‘Well, I really didn’t think about the Constitution and it’s above my pay grade.’ Do you think that’s what elected officials should be considering as they’re issuing executive orders?”

“As a nominee to the Supreme Court, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment on some of those issues,” Pierre-Louis said.

Doherty took Pierre-Louis to task for wearing an orange ribbon at the announcement of her nomination. Doherty insisted the ribbons represent an anti-gun organization. The nominee said that’s not why she wore one.

“It was my understanding that it was in support of gun violence victims, and that was the information that I had at the time,” she said.

“Don’t let people use you. And be extra careful in your role as a member of the Supreme Court, but I, I didn’t hear that, you know. I didn’t hear it. And I’m a little disappointed that you’re not big enough to say it,” Doherty said.

Sen. Troy Singleton said the orange ribbon has another history.

“The history of the orange ribbon is far deeper than what my colleague articulated, and he may not know this. Right. He may not know the story of Hadiya Pendleton out of Chicago. Fifteen year old girl was killed and all of her friends started the orange ribbon as an end to try and fight in violence in their own way,” Singleton said.

Senators seemed impressed with Pierre-Louis and the potential she would represent a new and younger generation on the state’s high court. The senate president congratulated her right after the committee’s unanimous vote. It’s expected the full Senate will confirm her nomination on Thursday.