Daughter of Haitian immigrants is now first Black woman on NJ Supreme Court

Ama Nunoo Sep 3, 2020 at 01:06pm

September 03, 2020 at 01:06 pm | Success Story, Women

Ama Nunoo

Ama Nunoo | Staff Writer

September 03, 2020 at 01:06 pm | Success Story, Women

Photo: Bloomberg

New Jersey has had two Black justices in its court’s history. The last time a Black judge was sworn in was 20 years ago and they were both men. On Tuesday, Fabiana Pierre-Louis was sworn in as the newest member of the New Jersey Supreme Court, making her the first Black female justice in the state’s 224-year-history and the youngest to ever occupy that position.

The 39-year-old daughter of Haitian immigrants has broken the stereotypical boundaries and excelled in her chosen career field beyond her imagination. She said she just wanted to be a successful lawyer who wants to create an impact the best way she could. To be a supreme court justice is a dream come true.

“Many years ago, my parents came to the United States from Haiti with not much more than the clothes on their backs and the American dream in their hearts,” Pierre-Louis said in one report. “I think they have achieved that dream beyond measure because my life is certainly not representative of the traditional trajectory of someone who would one day be nominated to the Supreme Court of New Jersey.”

Pierre-Louis is a first-generation American who grew up in a family of seven in a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn before relocating to Irvington. She now lives in Mount Laurel. Her mother worked for several years at the Manhattan hospital and her father drove a taxi in New York.

“The thought of actually sitting on the court one day was not something that came across my mind as a law clerk,” Pierre-Louis told Eyewitness News earlier this year. “I think my end game as a law student was to become an attorney and hopefully make an impact on the legal profession, in some way.”

English was her second language and she was assisted by the New Jersey’s Educational Opportunity Fund, which helps students from “educationally and economically disadvantaged backgrounds” with financial aid for college.

She earned her undergrad degree from Rutgers University-New Brunswick and then went on to Rutgers Law School in Camden where she graduated with high honors.

She had the pleasure of working with the last Black member of the Supreme Court Justice John Wallace Jr. as a law clerk.

The now mother of two was the first Black woman to run the U.S. Attorney’s Office in both Trenton and Camden where she worked for nine years as a prosecutor for the District of New Jersey.

She then returned to private practice at Cherry Hill firm Montgomery McCracken, focusing on white-collar crime, complex commercial litigation and government investigation.

Governor Phil Murphy nominated Pierre-Louis to the State Supreme Court in June. Her nomination was sent to the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Judicial and Prosecutorial Appointments Committee. The confirmation by the state Senate sealed the deal for her as their decision was unanimous.

“I’m incredibly proud that the Senate has unanimously confirmed Fabiana Pierre-Louis as the next Associate Justice to serve on New Jersey’s Supreme Court,” Murphy said. “Fabiana is an exceptionally talented attorney and will now have the historic distinction of becoming the first Black woman to be seated on our state’s highest court.

“I am honored to have put her name forward, and to see someone with a different set of life experiences and perspectives on our Supreme Court, a judicial body where New Jerseyans from all walks of life turn for justice.”

This appointment is not permanent because Pierre-Louis must serve seven years before state lawmakers make her seat permanent. Her age is an advantage as she will have three decades to help shape the courts in New Jersey.

Justice Water “Wally” Tampone is her predecessor. They are both Democrats, making the Supreme Court continue to have three Democrats, three Republicans and one independent.

On Monday, Wally stepped down from his seat as he will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 in a few months. Pierre-Louis also turns 40 later this month.

Pierre-Louis was chosen based on merit. Murphy and the state lawmakers said she was chosen because of her sharp mind and excellent resume.

Also, she brings the much-needed diversity and new perspective to the bench, especially now that the U.S. is in a constant battle with institutional racism and racial injustice.

According to NJ.com, in attendance at the private swearing-in ceremony were her husband and two sons and a very proud Gov. Murphy cheering her on.

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