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Courting Justice

Courting Justice: Ten New Jersey Cases That Shook the Nation

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 288
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    Courting Justice
    Book Description:

    Since 1947 a modernized New Jersey Supreme Court has played an important and controversial role in the state, nation, and world. Its decisions in cutting-edge cases have confronted society's toughest issues, reflecting changing social attitudes, modern life's complexities, and new technologies.Paul Tractenberg has selected ten of the court's landmark decisions between 1960 and 2011 to illustrate its extensive involvement in major public issues, and to assess its impact. Each case chapter is authored by a distinguished academic or professional expert, several of whom were deeply involved in the cases' litigation, enabling them to provide special insights. An overview chapter provides context for the court's distinctive activity.Many of the cases are so widely known that they have become part of the national conversation about law and policy. In the Karen Ann Quinlan decision, the court determined the right of privacy extends to refusing life-sustaining treatment. The Baby M case reined in surrogate parenting and focused on the child's best interests. In the Mount Laurel decision, the court sought to increase affordable housing for low- and moderate-income residents throughout the state. The Megan's Law case upheld legal regulation of sex offender community notification. A series of decisions known asAbbott/Robinsonrequired the state to fund poor urban school districts at least on par with suburban districts.Other less well known cases still have great public importance.Henningsen v. Bloomfield Motorsreshaped product liability and tort law to protect consumers injured by defective cars;State v. Huntshielded privacy rights from unwarranted searches beyond federal standards;Lehmann v. Toys 'R' Usprotected employees from sexual harassment and a hostile work environment;Right to Choose v. Byrneexpanded state constitutional abortion rights beyond the federal constitution; andMarini v. Irelandprotected low-income tenants against removal from their homes.For some observers, the New Jersey Supreme Court represents the worst of judicial activism; others laud it for being, in its words, "the designated last-resort guarantor of the Constitution's command." For Tractenberg, the court's activism means it tends to find for the less powerful over the more powerful and for the public good against private interests, an approach he applauds.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6160-8
    Subjects: Law
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Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD (pp. ix-xiv)

    This book and each of its chapters tell a fascinating and important story, a story about the origins of New Jersey’s modern judiciary, about the framework within which the state’s highest court functions, and about the cases that stand as examples of the court’s finest work. It is a story of an independent court system and the search for justice as the peculiar and specific charge of the judicial branch within a framework of three powerful, coequal branches of government.

    In “New Jersey’s 1947 Constitution and the Creation of a Modern State Supreme Court,” the concluding chapter by John B....

  4. Introduction (pp. 1-4)

    The New Jersey Supreme Court is consistently ranked “as one of the leading state supreme courts in the United States.”¹ A critical assessment of American courts in the early 1990s said that it “appears on every list of innovative or prestigious courts.”² By 2000, when the California courts fell from the short list of top state court systems, one writer urged them to “model … the Garden [State]” in its courts’ commitment to activist decisions.³

    This high regard was not always the case. Until 1947, when New Jersey adopted its pathbreaking state constitution, the state’s court system was bulky and...

  5. 1 Henningsen v. Bloomfield Motors, Inc. (1960): Promoting Product Safety by Protecting Consumers of Defective Goods (pp. 5-22)

    Ford Motor Company announced the culmination of the largest series of recalls in its history in October 2009: sixteen million cars, trucks, and minivans contained a faulty switch that created a risk of fire even when the vehicle was turned off. The toy in a McDonald’s Happy Meal contains no dangerous lead paint, and the box warns parents that the toy contains small parts and is unsuitable for children under three years of age.

    Safety recalls, child-safe toys, and other consumer protections are taken for granted today, but there was a time not so long ago when everyday products were...

  6. 2 Marini v. Ireland (1970): Protecting Low-Income Renters by Judicial Shock Therapy (pp. 23-44)

    Within a thirty-four-day period in 1970, courts in Illinois, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey announced decisions that dramatically altered a central aspect of landlord-tenant law—the ability of landlords to summarily dispossess tenants for failure to pay rent. Each decision reached essentially the same conclusion: tenants were entitled to defend against summary dispossession if conditions in their residences endangered health and safety or if there were other unfair conditions imposed on their tenancies. These decisions opened the floodgates of change. Other reformist court decisions or legislative enactments followed in almost every state. The stories of the Illinois and D.C. decisions,...

  7. 3 Southern Burlington County NAACP v. Township of Mount Laurel (1975): Establishing a Right to Affordable Housing Throughout the State by Confronting the Inequality Demon (pp. 45-76)

    This chapter tells the story of the landmarkMount Laurelcase, primarily from the perspective of those who were plaintiffs.¹ Because of the plaintiffs’ ethnic makeup, race theorists and civil rights advocates have argued that “at its core, theMount Laureldoctrine targets residential segregation as a key factor in the perpetuation of racial inequality in New Jersey.”² According to those commentators,Mount Laurelcorrectly recognized that exclusionary zoning exacerbates racial segregation and that full implementation of the law must include an ongoing attack on racial segregation anywhere it is found in the state.³ Those who have interpreted theMount...

  8. 4 In Re Karen Ann Quinlan (1976): Establishing a Patient’s Right to Die in Dignity (pp. 77-94)

    On September 10, 1975, Joseph and Julia Quinlan petitioned the Morris County, New Jersey, court for legal guardianship of their twenty-one-year-old daughter Karen Ann, who was in a persistent vegetative state (PVS). They sought permission to direct removal of the respirator sustaining her life. Approximately six months earlier, Karen had been rushed to the emergency room of Newton Memorial Hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest, being deprived of oxygen to the brain, and falling into a coma. Soon thereafter, Karen’s care was transferred to Saint Clare’s Hospital in Denville, a larger and better-equipped facility known to the Quinlans, where she...

  9. 5 Right to Choose v. Byrne (1982): Establishing a State Constitutional Right to Publicly Funded Abortions (pp. 95-122)

    Of all the constitutional issues that have come before our courts, few have been as intractable, as divisive, or as impassioned as that of a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy by abortion. The issue pits personal rights against public policy and invariably evokes the most intense and deeply held personal feelings and beliefs about health, family, religion, privacy, the nature of life, and a woman’s control over her own body.

    Advocates of reproductive freedom have called for recognition of a woman’s fundamental constitutional right to control her own body, including the freedom to abort a pregnancy. By contrast, the...

  10. 6 State v. Hunt (1982): Protecting Privacy from Unwarranted Searches amid a National Road Map to Independent State Constitutional Rights Cases (pp. 123-138)

    Our country was still fairly early in the development of what we now call the “new judicial federalism” when the New Jersey Supreme Court decidedState v. Huntin 1982.¹ This set of developments arose because we have a federal system, with a national government and a United States Constitution, as well as fifty state governments, each with its own state constitution. Under such a system, similar matters may sometimes be decided one way by the U.S. Supreme Court (usually first) under the federal Constitution and a different way later by state courts under their state constitutions.

    In the 1970s,...

  11. 7 In the Matter of Baby M (1988): Reining in Surrogate Parenting and Defining Children’s Best Interests (pp. 139-152)

    The case ofIn the Matter of Baby Mhas been called the “custody trial of the twentieth century.”¹ The baby girl at its center was born on March 27, 1986, in the coastal town of Long Branch, New Jersey.² Her birth certificate listed her name as Sara. The certificate also listed her mother as Mary Beth Whitehead, who carried and gave birth to her, and her father as Richard Whitehead, Mary Beth’s husband. Unlike the other babies born at Monmouth Medical Center that day, however, Sara had two additional visitors; they also considered themselves her father and mother.


  12. 8 Lehmann v. Toys ‘R’ Us (1993): Protecting Employees from Sexual Harassment and a Hostile Work Environment (pp. 153-174)

    When Terri Lehmann began working at Toys ‘R’ Us headquarters in Paramus, New Jersey, in 1981, the law of sexual harassment was still in its infancy. In 1986, the United States Supreme Court first addressed the issue, condemning a supervisor’s extortionate demands for sex. In 1991, a federal court of appeals denounced the U.S. Postal Service for allowing a male to return to the workplace of a female coworker whom he had been sexually harassing. In the meantime, trial court decisions went off in every imaginable direction precisely because the appellate courts had barely begun to clarify the law.


  13. 9 Doe v. Poritz and Megan’s Law (1995): The Subtle Art of Judicial Deference to the Legislature (pp. 175-194)

    The New Jersey Supreme Court has often been accused of usurping legislative functions to further social policy objectives. Particularly during the tenure of the late Chief Justice Robert Wilentz, judicially imposed mandates drew the ire of critics who made the familiar accusations of “judicial activism” and “super legislature.” Two of the most notable examples are dealt with in other chapters of this book—theMount Laureldoctrine requirement that municipalities in every region of the state provide a realistic opportunity for the production of housing affordable to low- and moderate-income households, and the requirement inAbbott v. Burkethat the...

  14. 10 New Jersey’s School Funding Litigation, Robinson v. Cahill and Abbott v. Burke (2011): The Epitome of the State Supreme Court as an Independent, Progressive Voice in Guaranteeing Constitutional Rights (pp. 195-234)

    In many ways, New Jersey’s school funding and education reform litigation is the centerpiece of this book. No cases better represent that thanRobinson v. CahillandAbbott v. Burke, the tandem that has revolutionized New Jersey’s school funding and educational system and has shaken the nation in the process.Robinsondominated much of the 1970s, andAbbotthas been at the center of the state’s legal, fiscal, educational, and political universes since the 1980s.

    To understand their collective dominance, you need to know how they are connected. Although they bear different names and are technically separate cases, they are...

  15. Conclusion: New Jersey’s 1947 Constitution and the Creation of a Modern State Supreme Court (pp. 235-254)

    The year 1947 marked a watershed for New Jersey and its court system. The creaky century-old state constitution was radically rewritten and a new, modernized judicial system was the capstone. The resulting New Jersey Supreme Court had the independence and structure to become one of the nation’s leading state supreme courts, widely considered strong and highly effective, if more activist than some favor.

    The 1947 constitution, New Jersey’s third, represented a major departure from the first two, the constitutions of 1776 and 1844. The first was only a few pages long and was adopted shortly after the Continental Congress had...

  16. NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS (pp. 255-258)
  17. INDEX (pp. 259-268)