Christie's new SC pick would be second Latino in N.J. history to serve on high court

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Aug 13, 2013

TRENTON, N.J. (Legal Newsline) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose previous attempts to fill two vacant seats on the state's high court have failed, has nominated yet another.

TRENTON, N.J. (Legal Newsline) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose previous attempts to fill two vacant seats on the state's high court have failed, has nominated yet another.

On Monday, Christie selected Faustino J. Fernandez-Vina, who has served as a judge on the New Jersey Superior Court since July 2004.

A Cuban-born Republican, Fernandez-Vina was confirmed unanimously by the state Senate for the superior court.

"In the words of the late Sen. John Adler, Judge Fernandez-Vina had 'the highest level of competence and he's just the total package,'" Christie said.

"Last year Chief Justice (Stuart) Rabner named Judge Fernandez-Vina the assignment judge of the Camden Vicinage. At that time, the chief justice said the following, 'Judge Fernandez-Vina brings to the position of assignment judge a wealth of experience, a proven, practical approach to addressing issues, superb judgment and the respect of the bench and bar.' Those are his words not mine."

Christie said he couldn't agree more.

"Beyond his time in public life Judge Fernandez-Vina had 22 years of private sector legal experience where he tried in excess of 100 cases and was a certified civil trial attorney certified by the New Jersey Supreme Court," the governor said, noting the judge's "deep roots" in the state.

Fernandez-Vina earned his law degree from Rutgers University in 1978 and has worked in the state ever since.

"He has in every way lived the American dream," Christie said.

At a press conference held Monday, the judge thanked Christie for nominating him.

"It would be a great honor to sit on our great state's highest court where I would hope to continue the public service I started as a civil judge in Camden, now the Vicinage Assignment Judge," Fernandez-Vina said. "I'm truly honored and humbled and I thank you."

Christie's attempts, thus far, to fill the two vacant seats on the court have failed. The Senate Judiciary Committee rejected both of his nominees.

Last year, the judiciary committee rejected the governor's nomination of Chatham Mayor Bruce Harris.

The committee, which is controlled by Democrats, voted 7-6 against Harris. It wants Christie, a Republican, to nominate at least one Democrat to the state's high court.

Harris, a finance attorney of 20 years, would have been the third African-American and first openly gay member of the Court.

Also last year, the committee voted 7-6 against Christie's other nominee, Assistant Attorney General Philip Kwon.

The committee had issues with the fact that neither Kwon nor Harris had ever worked as a judge before.

Christie, a Republican, has said the stalemate over court nominations boils down to party politics.

"I think these are folks who are just looking for excuse to vote against a Republican on the Supreme Court," the governor said last year, following the vote on Harris' nomination.

Christie said Monday he made it clear when he was elected his intention to reshape the court, and he's not backing down.

"I believe that is the right and the prerogative of any governor, Republican or Democrat. It is how our judicial system is set up, it's what our constitution currently embodies and permits," he said.

"Furthermore, it's my belief that the New Jersey Supreme Court has repeatedly strayed from its purview and overstepped its role. As such, in each nomination I've made my focus has not just been bringing to the bench sound and judicious individuals but common sense."

The governor said it is his "sincere hope" that Fernandez-Vina's confirmation process will be a "smooth one."

The Senate is back in session next week.

"There is no reason for the Legislature to engage in partisan games, especially with someone who they reconfirmed just a year and a half ago for lifetime tenure. There's no reason for the legislature to continue to delay as they've done with previous nominations. Especially given the unanimous previous confirmations and the high praise he's earned from leaders of both political parties," Christie said of Fernandez-Vina.

"He gives us South Jersey representation on the court, he gives us Hispanic representation on the court, adding to its diversity, and he gives us a wealth of experience both as a civil trial attorney in the courtroom and as a judge who has overseen dozens and dozens of trials from the other side of the bench."

If confirmed, Fernandez-Vina would be only the second Latino in the state's history to serve on the Supreme Court.

For more information on Fernandez-Vina, click here.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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