Gov. Phil Murphy plans to nominate Rachel Wainer Apter, a North Jersey native and former law clerk for the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to the state's highest court later this year.
If confirmed by the Senate, Wainer Apter, 40, would replace Associate Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, who announced last week that she intends to retire in August.
A registered Democrat, Wainer Apter would tilt the ideology of the seven-member Supreme Court, since LaVecchia is its lone unaffiliated voter.
At a ceremony at Rutgers University's Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hall, on what would have been the justice's 88th birthday, Wainer Apter said she shares the driving principles of her judicial mentors, including Ginsburg: upholding the law and the "equality and dignity of all people."
"I have never focused only on laws or systems. Instead, I have always centered the individual lives that laws and systems are meant to serve but can so often harm," Wainer Apter said.
A descendant of Jews who fled anti-Semitic persecution in Europe, Wainer Apter said her family's plight "gave me a strong sense of how fortunate I was to live in this time and place, but it also impressed upon me the horrors that can come from dehumanization, when one person deems another person as 'other' or denies their humanity."
Wainer Apter grew up in Rockaway and graduated from Morris Hills High School. She received an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her juris doctorate from Harvard Law School. She lives in Englewood with her husband, Jonathan, and three children.
She joined the Murphy administration in 2018 as an associate attorney general in the agency's civil rights division. She then worked for Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in Texas that year to successfully argue against a case that would have ended the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals immigration program.
Wainer Apter also helped draft the Murphy administration's Immigrant Trust Directive limiting local cooperation with federal immigration authorities and successfully demanded that Facebook address an anti-Semitic webpage encouraging violence against Orthodox Jews in Ocean County.
"In the words of Justice Ginsburg: 'Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you,' " Murphy said. "In every aspect throughout her career, Rachel has lived these words."
Before joining the Attorney General's Office, Wainer Apter worked at the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. She also clerked for federal Judges Robert Katzmann and Jed Rakoff.
Wainer Apter is Murphy's second nominee to the Supreme Court. If confirmed, she would join his first, Fabiana Pierre-Louis, along with Chief Justice Stuart Rabner and Associate Justices Barry Albin, Faustino Fernandez-Vina, Anne Patterson and Lee Solomon.