The New Jersey governor is able to nominate new members to the Supreme Court when openings occur through resignation, death, or retirement of sitting justices. Once confirmed by the Senate, appointed justices initially serve a seven-year term after which they can be nominated for tenure by the sitting governor and, if reconfirmed by the State Senate, remain on the court until they reach the mandatory retirement age of 70.
When Governor Whitman took office, all seven justices of the New Jersey Supreme Court were tenured. Six of the seven, however—Robert Clifford, Alan Handler, Stewart Pollock, Daniel O’Hern, Marie Garibaldi, and Chief Justice Robert Wilentz—either resigned or reached their mandatory retirement age during Whitman’s term. As a result, Governor Whitman replaced six of the seven justices on the New Jersey Supreme Court during her seven years in office. Only Gary Stein, who received his tenure re-appointment from Governor Jim Florio on January 11, 1992, remained on the court throughout Whitman’s entire term.
Two of Whitman’s court appointments were particularly notable. In 1994, Whitman appointed the first African-American to serve on the New Jersey Supreme Court when she nominated James Coleman as an Associate Justice. Two years later, upon the resignation (for health reasons) of Chief Justice Robert Wilentz, Whitman appointed Deborah Poritz as the next Chief Justice, making her the first woman to serve as Chief Justice in the state’s history. Whitman also appointed Virginia Long, Peter Verniero, Jaynee LaVecchia, and James Zazzali to the court during her gubernatorial term.