N.J. Senate confirms Governor Murphy’s latest pick for Supreme Court seat

by Sophie Nieto-Munoz, New Jersey Monitor

The state Senate approved former public defender Michael Noriega’s nomination to the state Supreme Court Friday, paving the way for the state’s highest court to have a full cohort of confirmed justices for the first time in 18 months.

The chamber unanimously confirmed Noriega during a busy voting session marking the Legislature’s final scheduled day before a planned summer recess, when much of the legislative drama focused on the state’s $54.3 billion budget.

“Mike Noriega came up through the ranks. He’s a trial lawyer, but most importantly, he’s a man of integrity,” said Sen. Jon Bramnick (R-Union), who worked with Noriega in his private law practice.

Senate President Nick Scutari (D-Union) called Noriega an “excellent addition to the Supreme Court.”

Noriega will be the first former public defender and the third Hispanic justice to sit on the New Jersey Supreme Court. He was chosen by the governor on May 15 and received bipartisan support from lawmakers.

Throughout his career, Noriega has worked in immigration matters, landlord-tenant disputes, and personal injury cases. From 2003 to 2008, he served as a public defender in Essex County. Most recently, he was a partner at Bramnick’s firm.

He is the fourth Supreme Court justice nominated by Murphy since he became governor in 2018. Murphy will likely nominate at least one more justice before he finishes his second term, as Justice Lee Solomon will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 on Aug. 14, 2024.

In a statement, Murphy commended officials from both parties for putting “partisanship aside.”

“Michael’s integrity, compassion, and intellect have earned the admiration of all who are fortunate enough to know him, and I have no doubt that he will bring these qualities to our state’s highest court,” Murphy said.

Legislative approval of Noriega’s nomination was speedy. He was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday with few questions, just 45 days after Murphy tapped him for the court. Rachel Wainer Apter, one of Murphy’s other Supreme Court choices, waited 18 months for Senate confirmation.

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