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Courting Justice

Ten New Jersey Cases That Shook the Nation

Edited by Paul L. Tractenberg with a Foreword by Deborah T. Poritz

Publication Year: 2013

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 as Abbott/Robinson required 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 Motors reshaped product liability and tort law to protect consumers injured by defective cars; State v. Hunt shielded privacy rights from unwarranted searches beyond federal standards; Lehmann v. Toys ‘R’ Us protected employees from sexual harassment and a hostile work environment; Right to Choose v. Byrne expanded state constitutional abortion rights beyond the federal constitution; and Marini v. Ireland protected 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.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: Rivergate Regionals Collection

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 1-6


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pp. 7-8

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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...

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pp. 1-4

...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 antiquated, hardly a model of independence and activism. One commentator described the shift from old to new constitution as an “exchange [of] America’s worst court system for America’s best” as “New Jersey goes to the head of the class...

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Henningsen v. Bloomfield Motors, Inc. (1960)

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pp. 19-36

...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...

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Marini v. Ireland (1970)

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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...

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Southern Burlington County NAACP v. Township of Mount Laurel(1975)

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pp. 45-76

...More specifically, I had to try to understand and explain why the New Jersey Supreme Court, at least on the surface, appeared to focus only on economic discrimination and not on racial segregation and racial injustice in spite of the racial composition of the plaintiff group, the racially taut environment of the time, and the obvious relevance of race to the issues before the justices. My exploration of this puzzling...

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In Re Karen Ann Quinlan (1976)

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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...

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Right to Choose v. Byrne (1982)

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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...

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State v. Hunt (1982)

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pp. 123-138

...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...

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In the Matter of Baby M (1988)

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pp. 139-152

...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. Sara’s genetic father was William Stern, known...

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Lehmann v. Toys ‘R’ Us (1993)

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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...

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Doe v. Poritz and Megan’s Law (1995)

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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...

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New Jersey’s School Funding Litigation, Robinson v. Cahill and Abbott v. Burke (2011)

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pp. 195-234

...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 really aspects of one litigation stream. The plaintiffs in Robinson successfully challenged two school funding statutes in the early 1970s, but in 1976 the New Jersey Supreme Court found that a third statute—the Public School Education Act of 1975—was “facially constitutional...

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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...

Notes on Contributors

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pp. 255-258


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pp. 259-268

E-ISBN-13: 9780813561608
E-ISBN-10: 0813561604
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813561592

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Rivergate Regionals Collection

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Subject Headings

  • Trials -- New Jersey.
  • Law -- New Jersey -- Popular works.
  • Civil rights -- New Jersey -- Popular works.
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