Published November 23, 2020
While an undergraduate majoring in political science at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, Fabiana Pierre-Louis came to realize belatedly that she wanted to be a lawyer. She then attended Rutgers Law School in Camden, graduating magna cum laude. Yet, Pierre-Louis RC’02, CLAW’06 never expected that her ambition and talent would land her on the New Jersey Supreme Court as only the third African American and the first African American woman.
“Justice cannot be blind if those who sit on our highest and most powerful bench are surrounded by colleagues who encompass the full range of the American experience, whether it be racially or generationally or both,” said New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy during his announcement of her nomination at a press conference in June. “We are making a powerful statement of where and how these values guide us.”
Pierre-Louis, the daughter of Haitian immigrants who grew up in Irvington, New Jersey, and the first in her family to attend law school, brings unique personal and professional perspectives to her new position. Pierre-Louis served in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey for nine years. She started as an assistant U.S. attorney and soon became the attorney-in-charge of the district’s Trenton branch office and later its Camden branch office—the first woman of color to hold the titles.
Pierre-Louis is “thoughtful, compassionate, committed to the rule of law and to a fair and unbiased system of justice,” says the co-dean of Rutgers Law School Kimberly Mutcherson, the first woman and first African American dean at the law school. Pierre-Louis’s appointment shifts the balance on the court to four men and three women and retains the balance of three Democrats, three Republicans, and one independent. Almost half of state supreme court benches across the country are all white.
The last Black justice to serve on the New Jersey Supreme Court was John E. Wallace Jr., for whom Pierre-Louis clerked after graduating from law school and who has been a mentor to her. “I started my career at the Supreme Court of New Jersey,” she says. “Never could I have imagined that one day I would be nominated to sit in the exact seat that he once occupied.”
Story originally appeared in Rutgers Magazine.