Governor Christie announced today that he will not re-nominate Justice Hoens to the Supreme Court once her initial seven-year term expires later this year. Instead, he is nominating Judge Faustino J. Fernandez-Vina, who currently serves as Assignment Judge in the Superior Court, Camden County.
Governor Christie attributed his decision not to re-nominate to Justice Hoens to statements of Democrats in the Senate. He specifically identified Senator Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) as the reason why Justice Hoens would not be re-nominated. Senator Lesniak has been quoted as saying that Senate Democrats should reject Justice Hoens if she were re-nominated, not because she has done anything wrong, but as “a price paid for what [the Governor] did” in failing to re-nominate Justice Wallace when his initial term expired in 2010.
Governor Christie stated that Justice Hoens thanked him “for sparing her the treatment” that Governor Christie’s prior nominees to the Court, Bruce Harris and Philip Kwon, received at the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Committee rejected both of those nominees. Kwon’s nomination failed, among other reasons, because he was held out as an Independent when in fact he had been a Republican for many years, until shortly before his nomination. There were also issues of financial improprieties raised. Harris was rejected primarily because, as a transactional attorney, he had little or no courtroom or other litigation experience.
Accordingly, the Governor’s comparison of those two nominees to Justice Hoens is inapt. Justice Hoens has served with distinction in the Appellate Division and, for seven years, on the Supreme Court, where she has been one of the Court’s most prolific opinion-writers. Even the remarks attributed to Senator Lesniak did not dispute the scholarship and integrity of Justice Hoens’s work on the Court, and it was certainly far from clear that other Senators would have blocked Justice Hoens purely for political payback. Nor would a rejection of Justice Hoens for re-confirmation on that basis be proper. Nonetheless, Justice Hoens will not have the chance to serve beyond the end of her initial term later this year.
A graduate of Widener University and Rutgers-Camden School of Law, Judge Fernandez-Vina was appointed to the Superior Court by Governor McGreevey in 2004. Judge Fernandez-Vina sat in the Family and Civil Divisions in Camden County, serving as Presiding Judge- Civil from February 2007 through January 2012, when Chief Justice Rabner named him as Assignment Judge. Before joining the judiciary, Judge Fernandez-Vina was in private practice. He earned the designation of certified civil trial attorney and served on the Supreme Court Committee on Character and the District IV Ethics Committee. Before that, he clerked for Judge Fluharty in Camden County.
Judge Fernandez-Vina, like Justice Hoens, is a Republican. If the reason for not re-nominating Justice Hoens was concern about Democratic “payback” against a Republican nominee, that same concern is still present with the nomination of Judge Fernandez-Vina. It remains to be seen whether those concerns will be borne out.
Justice Hoens deserved re-nomination (as did Justice Wallace). It is unfortunate that she has not been given the opportunity to serve on the Court until age 70. The public can only hope that her successor will compile as impressive a record as Justice Hoens did while on the Court.