The governor, in his second public appearance outside Trenton since the George Washington Bridge scandal erupted, called Fernandez-Vina a judge who could relate to people and complimented his down-to-earth nature, evidenced in his nickname. The judge got the name while playing midget football in Barrington, in a nod to former Green Bay Packers player Fuzzy Thurston.
"What you're looking for when you get to pick a justice is one who will understand the exalted nature of the work but not believe that it makes them personally exalted," Christie said. "Justice Fuzzy understands, while his obligations are large, his position in society is still first and foremost as a citizen who must live under the laws as he interprets them on the court."
Fernandez-Vina, an assignment judge in Camden County, replaces Republican Helen Hoens, whom Christie declined to renominate in August, shocking many in the legal community. Tensions between the governor and Senate Democrats date to 2010, when Christie decided against reappointing John Wallace, a Democrat and the only African American on the court.
Fernandez-Vina, who the Christie administration said is a Republican, won rare bipartisan support. He was approved despite the political logjam that had prevented a confirmation for two years. The Supreme Court will still have two vacancies.
At the ceremony, Fernandez-Vina sat onstage between Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) and Christie.
On the bench in Camden, Fernandez-Vina ruled in favor of the controversial new Camden County police force and upheld Camden's business curfew ordinance. He will be the only justice from South Jersey.
The new justice, who still lives in Barrington, was born to a prominent Cuban family, made wealthy by coffee-bean cultivation in Santiago. But when Fidel Castro took control in 1959, his communist agenda led to the confiscation of the family home and threats to the business. The family left for the United States and eventually settled in New Jersey.
Former Camden County Assignment Judge Francis J. Orlando Jr. called Fernandez-Vina's journey from Widener University football player to trial lawyer and now associate justice an "only-in-America story." He commended Fernandez-Vina's selflessness.
When Fernandez-Vina was having eye problems requiring invasive treatments, Orlando said, he would schedule appointments early in the morning and refuse the anesthesia so he could work a full day in the courthouse.
Fernandez-Vina also cared for his mother until her death in August and cares for his father, who sat in a wheelchair on the side of the stage Friday.
Fernandez-Vina thanked many people in attendance, including his parents, from whom he said he learned "honor, respect, and hard work."
"I don't know what kind of justice I'll be. History will judge me," he told the crowd, before borrowing words from U.S. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. "I'm glad history will start with the words, 'He was confirmed.' "