TRENTON — Gov. Phil Murphy has nominated the first black woman to the state's highest court.

Fabiana Pierre-Louis, 39, an attorney and former prosecutor whose parents emigrated from Haiti, would be only the third black jurist to serve on the seven-member state Supreme Court.

Murphy said that his choice was not based on "the current national discussion around race and systemic bias that is unfolding before our very eyes, and in our very streets."

"In fact, anyone who knows how these processes work knows that they begin many months, if not years, before an announcement is made," Murphy said during his Friday morning announcement, adding that the timing was appropriate nevertheless.

"Justice cannot be blind if those who sit on our highest and most powerful bench are not surrounded by colleagues who encompass the full range of the American experience, whether it be racially or generationally, or both," he said.

New Jersey becomes just the 18th state with a woman of color on its highest court.

The nomination will be reviewed by the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Judicial and Prosecutorial Appointments Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee. She would replace the retiring Walter Timpone.

Without naming his predecessor, Murphy took a swipe at former Gov. Chris Christie for removing John Wallace, the last black justice from the court, in 2010. At the time, Christie was criticized for denying Wallace tenure and the seven members of the independent Judicial Advisory Panel resigned in protest.

Murphy said he believes in the importance of an independent judiciary.

"This administration is committed to returning the court to its rightful place: Independent of politics, where decisions are made based on what is right rather than what is popular or what is needed to secure re-nomination and tenure from any particular governor," he said.

Pierre-Louis grew up in Irvington, where she attended the former St. Paul the Apostle School. She also graduated from Union Catholic Regional High School in Scotch Plains, Rutgers University in New Brunswick and Rutgers Law School in Camden.

Pierre-Louis clerked for Justice Wallace and later became a partner at Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads in Cherry Hill, where she currently works.

She also has worked with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of New Jersey, prosecuting cases of corruption, defense contracting fraud, national security, drugs, child sexual exploitation and racial bias in law enforcement. She was appointed attorney in charge of the Trenton office in 2016 and attorney in charge of the Camden office in 2018.

Pierre-Louis said she was most proud of her work with the Trenton Reentry Court, which helps recently released federal offenders find housing, jobs and support, saying that giving ex-cons the "ability to succeed in life after prison" was an "example of the mission of the Department of Justice coming full circle."

Murphy and Pierre-Louis were joined at the announcement by Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, the first black woman to hold that position.

Oliver said she hasn't had much reason to smile "with everything going on in the world around us," but couldn't stop smiling Friday. Still, Oliver's voice seemed to choke trying to hold back tears. She called Pierre-Louis "proof that the American Dream lives."

Pierre-Louis echoed the sentiment in her remarks.

"Standing here, I know I have truly lived and continue to live the American Dream that my parents came to this country in search of."

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