The Orange Ribbon: Pierre-Louis Tangles with Doherty Before Unanimous Passage by Senate Judiciary Committee

State Supreme Court nominee/former federal prosecutor Fabiana Pierre-Louis this afternoon underwent a grilling by at least two Republican senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee in advance of her unanimous 11-0 acceptance. At the heart of the debate was her decision to wear an orange ribbon on the day Governor Phil Murphy nominated her for the job, and a subsequent pointed clarifying intervention by state Senator Troy Singleton (D-7).

If the full state Senate confirms the nomination, Pierre-Louis will be the first Black woman to ever sit on the court. If confirmed, Pierre-Louis – originally from Irvington – would replace the Governor Chris Christie-nominated Walter “Wally” Timpone, who joined the state’s highest court in 2016. On the day of her nomination in June, Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver noted that thirty three states in the country, including New Jersey, at present lack an African-American justice on the Supreme Court.

“She may be the most qualified person I’ve ever seen,” said state Senator Bob Smith (D-17), identifying the positive, next-generation mood in the room.

State Senator Nick Scutari (D-22), chair of the judiciary committee, said he believes Murphy’s nominee – a former law clerk to Justice John Wallace, will be a leader on the court in short order. He expressed his hopes that Pierre-Louis would receive a full confirmation by the end of the week. But that did not prevent key Republican lawmakers from fierce cross-examination, as the committee heartily approved Pierre-Louis’ historic nomination in the aftermath of some (minor) animated interlocution.

NJ State Senator Mike Doherty says that President Donald Trump made a good decision to call off an air strike on Iran.
NJ State Senator Mike Doherty. “You can’t be an appendage of Governor Murphy.”

State Senator Mike Doherty (R-23) – who ultimately voted “yes” – wanted to know if state Supreme Court nominee Pierre-Louis thinks it’s important for her to consider the U.S. Constitution.

“Many people feel he hasn’t really followed what the Constitution says,” said Doherty, referring to Governor Murphy.

“He made sweeping changes to how we’re going to conduct the election [not involving the legislature],” he added.

“We have a governor who says ‘it’s above my pay grade,'” Doherty complained.

“I dont think it’s appropriate for me to comment on some of those issues,” said Pierre-Louis. “If I’m fortunate enough to be on the court [she acknowledged she would consider constitutional issues].”

Second Amendment champ Doherty was also irritated at Pierre-Louis for wearing a ribbon expressing

Hadiya Pendleton
Hadiya Pendleton

her opposition to gun violence. “Don’t you think you should have thought what that organization is all about before you put that orange ribbon on?”

Doherty told the nominee that, in his opinion, she got off to a bad start as a nominee to New Jersey’s highest court. “It was inappropriate for the governor to combine [the announcement of her nomination] with [politics expressed by the ribbon,” the senator said.

“You have to live almost a monastic existence as a public official, especially as a judge,” the Warren County-based senator added.

State Senator Troy Singleton (D-7) provided context to the collision.

Senator Troy Singleton (D-7) jumped into the debate with a strong dose of context.

“The history of the orange ribbon is far deeper,” Singleton told Doherty. “If we’re going to be factual the reason you wore the ribbon is because you identify with a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton.”

The orange ribbon movement rose out of the murder of Ms. Pendleton, a 15-year-old Black girl from Chicago, Illinois, shot in the back and killed while standing with friends inside Harsh Park in Kenwood, Chicago after taking her final exams.

Earlier in the hearing, Scutari asked about challenging cases she had undertaken in her career, especially as a member of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “When I started in the Newark office I was in specific practice groups; the range of cases I was working on expanded significantly,” Pierre-Louis told the committee. Those cases included national security issues, and exploration of dense and complicated cases of law.

“I certaintly think I do bring a different perspective,” said the nominee. “I’ve lived in Irvington. I’ve lived in Brooklyn in the 80’s. I’ve prosecuted all kinds of cases in New Jersey.”

Scutari noted that Pierre-Louis would be at least 20 years younger than the next youngest person on the court, giving her yet another perspective. “This nominee brings a unique perspective,” the judiciary committee chairman said.

He wanted to know her stance on stare decisis. “I believe stare decisis is an important principle, but it is difficult to answer that question in the abstract,” she said.


Senator Gerald Cardinale (R-39).

“She did graduate magna cum laude,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Scutari chastised fellow Senator Gerald Cardinale during the confirmation hearing this afternoon for state Supreme Court Justice nominee Fabiana Pierre-Louis.

Cardinale had just made the observation that Pierre-Louis did graduate from law school.

Moments later:

“Are you a communist?” Cardinale asked, evidently sending Scutari squirming.

It proved a dramatic precursor to his acceptance.

“This candidate is not perfect, but she’s pretty close,” said the veteran Bergen senator, who voted yes.

Senator Kip Bateman (R-16) also voted “aye.”

Everyone did, in fact.

Prior to her return to Montgomery McCracken, Pierre-Louis served for 9 years in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and the Attorney-in-Charge of the Camden Branch Office, the first woman of color to hold that position in the history of the District. As Attorney-in-Charge, Pierre-Louis was responsible for supervising all aspects of criminal matters handled by the Camden Office including criminal trials, investigations and prosecutions of large-scale mail and wire fraud offenses, healthcare and government fraud matters, and narcotics, firearms, and violent crime offenses. She also investigated and prosecuted her own individual caseload focusing on public corruption matters, federal narcotics offenses, export control violations, defense contracting fraud, national security matters, and child exploitation offenses. Prior to serving as the Attorney-in-Charge of the Camden Office, Pierre-Louis also served as the Attorney-in-Charge of the Trenton Branch Office from November 2016 to December 2018 and was the first woman of color to hold that position as well.  In addition to working in both Trenton and Camden, Pierre-Louis worked in the Newark Office in the General Crimes Unit and the Organized Crime and Gang Unit.

Before serving as an Assistant United States Attorney, Fabiana was an associate in Montgomery McCracken’s White Collar and Government Investigations practice group.

Immediately following law school, Fabiana served as a law clerk for the Honorable John E. Wallace, Jr. of the Supreme Court of New Jersey (Ret.).


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