NEWARK, NJ — Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday announced he will nominate Rockaway Township native Rachel Wainer Apter to serve as an Associate Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Wainer Apter, 40, previously served as a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Murphy spoke of his intentions to nominate her during a ceremony at Rutgers-Newark this morning. Ginsburg, who once taught at the law school, would have turned 88 on Monday. 

Murphy said Wainer Apter was unanimously recommended by the state’s judicial advisory panel, whose members include two former chief justices. Her nomination will now be reviewed by the New Jersey Bar Association Judicial and Prosecutorial Appointments Committee.

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If appointed, Wainer Apter - an Englewood resident and Morris Hills High School graduate - would become the 41st justice to serve in the Garden State’s highest court.

She currently serves as director of the Division of Civil Rights in the New Jersey Attorney General's office and was once an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.

The governor spoke of Wainer Apter’s extensive background including successfully preserving the DACA program in NJ during the Trump administration, playing a vital role to help the attorney general’s office shape its immigrant trust directive, fighting for Facebook to address antisemitism on its platform that impacted the Jewish community in Ocean County and penning legislation to better the state’s discrimination laws

“[Moreover Rachel] has litigated to preserve the rights and dignity of same-sex couples, defend voting rights that were under attack and protect the rights of people with disabilities. In the words of Justice Ginsburg, and I quote the Justice, ‘Fight for the things that you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.’ That's good advice for all of us in every aspect,” Murphy said.

“Throughout her career, Rachel has lived these words. At this time in our history, when state courts have never mattered more, the New Jersey Supreme Court's long held reputation for judicial independence and sound decision-making takes on new and urgent importance and I know that Rachel will add to the court's legacy,” Murphy continued.

Taking the stage during Monday’s ceremony Wainer Apter in part focused on her ancestors. Wainer Apter’s great-grandparents came to the United States to escape anti-Semitic persecution in Russia and Eastern Europe, she said.

“As a child, I was tremendously impacted by learning about the Holocaust. I went through years of grade school, where I read only books about the Holocaust and I had vivid dreams that I was living during that time. That 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 other or denies their humanity. I therefore always knew that I wanted to help people. And in law school, I realized that meant civil rights law. The idea that all people are entitled to equal justice under the law, and to be treated with equal dignity and equal respect. We now think of this concept as an integral part of our federal constitution,” Wainer Apter shared.

“But at the time the Constitution was written in 1787, many people were left out of the way the people of the United States referenced in the opening words,” Wainer Apter added. “People are brought to this country as slaves and all of their descendants, Native American peoples, women, the past 234 years have largely been a struggle for those who were excluded at the time of the Constitution drafting and who have been excluded in the many years since for full and equitable inclusion in our national life.”

Wainer Apter earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania and her juris doctorate from Harvard Law School. She said she took from Justice Ginsburg lessons on the “central belief in equality in all people” and the importance of the law’s impact on the practical everyday lives of families.

“This court has stood strong against outside political interference and pressure,” said Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver in the ceremony. “This is not just a testament to our Constitution but to the women and men who have been entrusted with sitting on our highest court. Rachel will undoubtedly continue and strengthen this storied tradition under her capable direction.”

If appointed, Wainer Apter would take over for  New Jersey state Supreme Court Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, who said last week she would resign at the end of August.

Former Republican Gov. Christie Whitman nominated LaVecchia, 66, and she was sworn in February 2000.

“It has been a privilege to hold the position of an associate justice for these more than 21 years,” LaVecchia said in a statement on March 8. “But after spending almost my entire professional career — more than 40 years — in public service in various legal and policy positions within the Executive Branch and then the Supreme Court, I have decided after much reflection that it is time for a change.”

In a milestone for the state, Murphy last June tapped Fabiana Pierre-Louis to the NJ Supreme Court. Pierre-Louis, 39, became the state’s first Black woman in the role.

Watch Monday’s ceremony below: