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Governor Murphy will nominate Rutgers general counsel to Supreme Court • New Jersey Monitor

Gov. Phil Murphy will nominate former acting Attorney General John Hoffman to fill retiring Justice Lee Solomon's seat on the state Supreme Court, the governor announced Monday.

Hoffman, who has served as general counsel and senior vice president at Rutgers University since 2016, is an independent voter and served as acting attorney general under Governor Chris Christie for nearly three years – the longest time anyone has held the post without confirmation.

“As many will attest, John is already a pillar of the New Jersey legal community,” Murphy said during the announcement at the Statehouse. “Like Judge Solomon, he has devoted nearly his entire career to public service.”

His confirmation, should it happen, would continue the tradition of partisan balance on the New Jersey Supreme Court. Historically, the governor's party has held a 4-3 majority on the Supreme Court.

Hoffman, who served six years as a federal prosecutor and seven years as a civil litigator in federal court, is expected to serve an initial seven-year term and, if re-nominated and confirmed, will remain on the Supreme Court until he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 on August 23, 2035.

“This is an incredibly humbling moment in my life,” he said at the announcement.

Solomon, a former Camden County prosecutor who has served on the Supreme Court since 2014, turns 70 on August 17.

“Over the past decade, all of New Jersey has benefited from his wisdom and perspectives,” Murphy said of Solomon.

As acting attorney general, Hoffman issued a directive encouraging police to use body-worn cameras, but his office argued in the state Supreme Court against the release of some other documents, such as reports of police use of force and footage from dashboard cameras.

Under his leadership, the Overdose Prevention Act was passed, which prohibits certain minor drug offenses against people who call 911 to assist with an overdose, while expanding the policy to include other people who assisted in the call.

His office later launched pilot programs to supply police with Narcan, an antidote to opioid overdoses.

“I know we couldn’t ask for a better person than John if he had the intellectual integrity and professionalism,” said Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union).

Before joining the attorney general's office, Hoffman headed the state comptroller's investigative division, which investigates governments for waste and abuse.

Hoffman said that when Murphy offered him the nomination on Friday, he was speechless for about 30 seconds given the magnitude of the offer.

“I am not usually at a loss for words like this, but this time I was,” he said Monday, adding, addressing Murphy directly: “I appreciate that you certainly heard the roar that lay in my silence.”

Hoffman's confirmation is unlikely to face the same hurdles that delayed Judge Rachel Wainer Apter's confirmation.

Republican Senator Holly Schepisi of Bergen County invoked the senatorial courtesy rule – an unwritten rule that allows senators to unilaterally block candidates from their home counties or districts – and left Wainer Apter's nomination on hold for 19 months.

Schepisi said she blocked the nomination to ensure the court's partisan balance was maintained, and Wainer Apter was not confirmed until Republican Douglas Fasciale was nominated to fill another vacancy on the Supreme Court. Both Wainer Apter and Fasciale are now members of the court.

Hoffman is a resident of Burlington County, where Senators Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) and Latham Tiver (R-Burlington) can voice their opinions on his nomination.

As Senate president, Scutari could block his nomination, but that too is unlikely. The Senate president and the candidate are longtime acquaintances, and Scutari spoke very positively of Hoffman on Monday.

Hoffman's nomination is expected to be Murphy's last to the Supreme Court, and his successor may not get another chance. No other justice will retire from the court before 2030, when Chief Justice Stuart Rabner and Associate Justice Fasciale turn 70. Murphy's term ends in January 2026.

It is Murphy's fifth nomination to the state Supreme Court. If confirmed, Murphy will have appointed more justices to the court than any governor since Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, during whose tenure six justices were confirmed to the Supreme Court.

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Anna Harden

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