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Senate panel approves 11 new judges after months-long hiatus

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Senate panel approves 11 new judges after months-long hiatus

Dec 07, 2023 | 5:41 pm ET
By Nikita Biryukov
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Senate panel approves 11 new judges after months-long hiatus
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Thursday’s movement on judicial nominations ends a months-long hiatus that began when legislators broke for the summer after approving the state budget (Getty Images)

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the nominations of 11 new Superior Court judges Thursday, also approving the reappointments of 18 sitting jurists.

All of the nominations approved Thursday will see full Senate votes at the chamber’s Dec. 11 voting session, said Sen. Nellie Pou (D-Passaic), the committee’s vice-chair who ran Thursday’s meeting.

The batch of new judges approved Thursday is the largest the Senate has sought to advance at once since May 2022, when it approved 11 judicial nominees.

The panel advanced the tenure nomination of one tax court judge in addition to the 18 Superior Court renominations and also approved the nomination of one administrative law judge.

Thursday’s movement on judicial nominations ends a months-long hiatus that began when legislators broke for the summer after approving the state budget.

Though their break customarily lasts until September, it is often extended in years when legislators are on the ballot. By the time the panel convened Thursday, it had not met to consider judicial nominations in more than five months.

There were 67 judicial vacancies in the Superior Court on Thursday, though the nominations newly advanced would bring that number down to 56 once those judges are sworn in following confirmation before the full chamber.

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, who has urged lawmakers to staff up the courts since issuing a dire warning about empty seats on the judiciary’s bench in May 2022, has said the courts can operate sustainably if vacancies were reduced to a maximum of 30.

In parts of the state, the vacancies are severe enough that some types of trials are simply no longer being held. Civil and divorce trials are paused in Passaic County and in a court jurisdiction covering Somerset, Hunterdon, and Warren counties.

Such trials resumed in a separate multi-county jurisdiction covering Cumberland, Gloucester, and Salem counties this July after a series of confirmations cut vacancies there.

Two of the would-be judges advanced Thursday would sit in Somerset County. One would sit in Ocean, three in Union, and the remaining five in Essex.

Counting the 11 approved Thursday, there are 26 Superior Court nominees awaiting confirmation by the committee.