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Constitutional Amendment to Protect Independence of the Judiciary Urged at Weintraub Lecture by Retired Supreme Court Justice Gary Stein

April 04, 2014 – 

Speaking before an audience of more than 100 gathered at Rutgers School of Law–Newark to honor the legacy of Joseph Weintraub, the second Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court under the State Constitution of 1947, retired Associate Justice Gary S. Stein called for the adoption this November of a Constitutional amendment that would end what he described as “the diminishment and demoralization of the Judicial branch of the State Government.”

Click here for the video of the 2014 Weintraub Lecture. 

“The time has come,” said Justice Stein, “to restore the stature, the respect and the independence of the New Jersey Judiciary by guaranteeing that qualified justices and judges need not fear that their reappointments can be jeopardized by improper political considerations.” 

Baer Stein& Chen Weintraub 2014
Acting Dean Ronald K. Chen (right) at the Weintraub Lecture with Judge Harold Baer, Jr. (left) and Justice Gary Stein.

The 1947 Constitution is, he said, “the foundation for New Jersey’s embrace of the principles of judicial independence.” Justice Stein quoted from the remarks of Gov. Alfred E. Driscoll to the Constitutional Convention’s Judiciary Committee: “Our primary, our basic purpose, in the drafting of a new Constitution is to secure beyond any question a strong, competent, easily functioning but always independent judiciary.” 

Justice Stein, who served for more than 17 years on the Court and is now special counsel at Pashman Stein and an adjunct professor at the law school, noted that prior to the denial of tenure to Justice John Wallace in 2010, “25 Justices of the New Jersey Supreme Court, after serving their initial seven-year tenure, were reappointed by the Governor then in office.”

Citing additional actions by the executive branch that threaten the independence of the judiciary, Justice Stein offered a simple amendment designed to codify the objective of the framers of the 1947 Constitution. “The records of the Constitutional Convention clearly demonstrate,” he said, “the framers’ intent that Justices and Judges who were qualified were entitled to reappointment and only Justices and Judges who were morally or temperamentally unfit would be denied tenure.”

Justice Stein was one of two speakers who addressed the topic of “Judicial Independence” at the 31st Annual Chief Justice Joseph Weintraub Lecture, held on April 3, 2014. The lecture is sponsored by the law school and the Rutgers School of Law–Newark Alumni Association. 

The Honorable Harold Baer, Jr., Judge of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, offered three stories each from a different continent to underscore the drastic problems that surround rule of law and the independence of the judiciary around the world. His examples were of a judge who sat in the Scottish Highlands in the late 19th century, a Chinese civil rights lawyer, and a Serbian Supreme Court Judge in the time of Milosevic.

In urging his audience to engage in efforts to ensure the rule of law, Judge Baer recalled the words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world; it’s the only thing that ever has.”