Justice Helen Hoens, on her last day of oral arguments on the New Jersey Supreme Court, gave a valedictory that deliberately avoided the circumstances of her premature departure.
“I choose … not to comment on the roiling waters of politics that swamped the little boat of my judicial career,” she said Tuesday to an audience that included family members and former court justices.
“I wasn’t planning on leaving quite so soon,” she said. “I am content to let history judge me by the body of work I have left behind.”
Prior to her speech, Hoens’ colleagues had praised her “courage,” “fearlessness,” “brilliance,” “strength” and “compassion.”
Hoens, the parent of an autistic child, said, “I became all of these things because of my son, because of the life that I lived with my son, there in the margins and the shadows of society. All of it was forged on the anvil of autism.”
Hoens implored those listening to remember her words the next time they come across someone who may be autistic, saying, “Tell yourself this: Somebody just like that taught me everything I need to know to be a justice of the Supreme Court of the state of New Jersey. Think on that. Remember that.”
Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said, “To say that we will miss you … is an understatement.”
Justice Jaynee LaVecchia said, “Your untimely departure diminishes us.”
Justice Barry Albin added, “To keep pace with you, every member of the court had to be at the top of his or her game.”
Gov. Chris Christie announced in August that he would not renominate Hoens, a fellow Republican, when her seven-year term ended, saying he wished to spare her from an act of “political vengeance” that would blemish her “outstanding judicial career.”
Some Democrats had indicated she could face a difficult confirmation process because of Christie’s decision in 2010 to not nominate Justice John Wallace Jr., a Democrat, for tenure.
Christie’s attempts to fill Wallace’s position and another seat vacated by Justice Virginia Long’s retirement have been rebuffed. Those seats remain officially vacant, filled temporarily by Appellate Division judges.
Two of his nominees, Greenberg Traurig’s Bruce Harris and First Assistant Attorney General Phillip Kwon, were rejected as unqualified last year by the Senate in party-line votes. Two subsequent nominees, Superior Court Judge David Bauman and Board of Public Utilities President Robert Hanna, have had their Senate confirmation hearings withheld indefinitely.
Christie has nominated Camden County Assignment Judge Faustino Fernandez-Vina, another Republican, to fill Hoens’ seat when her term ends on Oct. 26. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold his confirmation hearing on Oct. 17.