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Insights into 10 of NJ Supreme Court's Most Influential Decisions Provided in New Book from Professor Paul Tractenberg

August 19, 2013 – 

”The New Jersey constitution adopted overwhelmingly by voters in 1947 transformed a judiciary that was considered one of the worst in the country — with 17 different classes of courts and a 16-member high court including six lay members who did have to be attorneys — into one of the nation’s most highly regarded. Over the ensuing six and half decades, the New Jersey Supreme Court has broken new ground in numerous cases that have dealt with some of society’s toughest issues, delivering opinions that often have become models for other states.

For Courting Justice: Ten New Jersey Cases That Shook the Nation (Rutgers University Press, 2013), Rutgers School of Law–Newark professor Paul L. Tractenberg selected 10 cases decided between 1960 and 2011 that exemplify the Court’s impact on society and the legal system. The cases, Tractenberg wrote, “tend to be, in the vernacular of some, liberal or activist decisions. That means they tend to find for the less powerful and influential against the more powerful and influential, for the public good against the private interests.” Four made the New Jersey Lawyer’s list of the 20th century’s five most important New Jersey state court decisions. The remaining were selected based on the frequency with which they have been cited by other courts, in casebooks, law review articles and general media coverage, and whether their narratives would resonate with the general reader.

Courting Justice

Courting Justice presents cases in chronological order and covers a wide range of subject areas, including high-profile litigation like the Karen Ann Quinlan case, in which the court concluded that the right of privacy can be applied to refusing life-sustaining treatments; and the Baby M case, a custody argument stemming from a disputed surrogacy contract in which the Court put the best interests of the child first. Other well-known cases are: Southern Burlington County NAACP v. Township of Mount Laurel, which established a right to affordable housing throughout the state; Doe v. Poritz, which upheld the legal regulation of sex offender community notification (Megan’s Law); and the various Abbott/Robinson decisions requiring the state to fund poor urban school districts at least on par with suburban districts.

Other less well-known but still seminal cases are: Henningsen v. Bloomfield Motors, which reshaped product liability and tort law to protect consumers injured by defective cars; State v. Hunt, which shielded privacy rights from unwarranted searches beyond federal standards; Lehmann v. Toys ‘R’ Us, which gave employees protection from sexual harassment and a hostile work environment; Right to Choose v. Byrne, which expanded state constitutional abortion rights beyond the federal constitution; and Marini v. Ireland, which protected low-income tenants against removal from their homes.

A brief introductory chapter by Tractenberg and a concluding chapter by John B. Wefing, Distinguished Professor at Seton Hall Law School and well-known chronicler of New Jersey’s judicial history, frame the heart of Courting Justice—10 chapters, each dedicated to a specific case and written by a legal academic or practitioner, several of whom were involved in the litigation. Tractenberg, for example, has played an integral role in the public school funding cases, arguing many times before the Supreme Court, and establishing and serving as director for three years of the Education Law Center, which to this day continues to represent the student plaintiffs in Abbott.

New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice (Ret.) Deborah Poritz contributed the foreword and the other authors are: Hon. Paul W. Armstrong; Rutgers School of Law–Newark Acting Dean Ronald K. Chen, and Professors Robert C. Holmes, Suzanne A. Kim and Louis Raveson; Rutgers School of Law–Camden Professors Jay M. Feinman and Robert F. Williams; Richard H. Chused, New York Law School; Caitlin Edwards, Esq.; and Fredric J. Gross, Esq.

Professor Tractenberg is a Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor and Alfred C. Clapp Distinguished Public Service Professor of Law. He is the author of numerous publications on education law; a frequent lecturer; and, over the years, a consultant and adviser to national, regional, and state organizations and agencies. In 2000, Tractenberg established and continues to serve as co-director of the Institute on Education Law and Policy (IELP), an interdisciplinary research project at Rutgers–Newark. In 2010, he and his seminar students published a book titled A Centennial History of Rutgers Law School in Newark: Opening a Thousand Doors.