Gov. Murphy names civil rights division head to NJ Supreme Court

NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday nominated Rachel Wainer Apter to be an associate justice of the state Supreme Court, making his pick to replace retiring Jaynee LaVecchia.

Apter is currently the head of the civil rights division within the state attorney general's office and previously served as counsel to the attorney general. She was also a clerk for the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was at the center of Monday's nomination.

Murphy noted the date would have been Ginsburg's 88th birthday, and the event was held at the newly re-christened Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hall at Rutgers Law School, where the justice had been a professor.

"In the wake of Justice Ginsburg's passing, the advances in civil rights that she spent a lifetime fighting for are under threat in Washington," Murphy said. "State courts have never mattered more, and I am honored to nominate Rachel Wainer Apter, who clerked for Justice Ginsburg and followed in her footsteps as a civil rights lawyer, to the New Jersey Supreme Court. Over the past few years, Rachel has defended New Jersey's DREAMers in federal court, drove Facebook to confront hate speech on its platform, and proposed reforms to prevent sexual harassment. I know she will continue to serve all New Jerseyans on our state's highest court."

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Apter's appointment must be approved by the Democrat-led state Senate. If approved, she would fill the seat being vacated by LaVecchia, who recently announced she would be retiring from the high court when the term ends in August. She has served as a justice for more than two decades.

"The law is not simply a subject to be debated or a puzzle to be solved, but something that profoundly impacts the lives of individual people each day," Apter said. "The cases that the New Jersey Supreme Court hears concern issues of fundamental importance to our state and to all of us as individuals, including how our society will live up to the promise of equal justice under the law. I am grateful beyond measure for the faith that Governor Murphy has placed in me with this nomination, and will do my best to serve the people of New Jersey if confirmed."

Apter is the governor's second nomination to the court. Fabiana Pierre-Louis became the first Black woman on the court when she was sworn in in September.

Prior to her current role, Apter served as Counsel to the Attorney General, advising on civil rights and immigration matters, including leading the New Jersey team that defeated a motion by Texas and seven other states to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

She previously worked at the American Civil Liberties Union on cases concerning voting rights, reproductive freedom, and the right to be free from discrimination.

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She served as counsel in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which considered whether a baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple was exempt from Colorado's anti-discrimination law. She also argued and won a disability discrimination appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and led a task force regarding investigations into incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault on college campuses.

After law school, Wainer Apter served as a law clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the United States Supreme Court, Judge Robert Katzmann on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and Judge Jed Rakoff on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. She also worked in the Supreme Court and Appellate practice at Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe, where she served as lead associate or lead attorney on dozens of cases in the United States Supreme Court and federal and state courts of appeal, including three Supreme Court merits cases, a successful petition for certiorari, and a successful petition for en banc rehearing.

Rachel graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, summa cum laude, and received her law degree from Harvard Law School, magna cum laude. A native of Rockaway, New Jersey, Rachel lives in Englewood with her husband Jonathan and three children.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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