New Jersey Supreme Court
The New Jersey Supreme Court is the highest court in the state of New Jersey. It has existed in three different forms under the three different state constitutions since the independence of the state in 1776. The main difference between the versions, the composition of the court, reflects the change in jurisprudence from the colonial British concept of "Law Lords", or legislators serving part time as judges, to the current form of an independent and nonpartisan court uninvolved with the other branches of government. In its current form, the New Jersey Supreme Court is the highest and final judicial authority on all cases in the state court system, the sole determinant of the constitutionality of state laws with respect to the state constitution, and the arbiter and overseer of the decennial legislative redistricting. Throughout its history it has been responsible for numerous precedents, landmarks and historically important and well-known cases. One of its former members, William J. Brennan, Jr., also became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
The Court currently sits in the state capitol of Trenton, New Jersey in the Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex.
New Jersey Supreme Court rulings on ballot measures
|Year||Type||Ballot measure||Legal issue||Plaintiff||Defendant||Court ruling||Impact|
Under the two previous New Jersey Constitutions (1776 and 1844), the phrase "Supreme Court" referred to a lower court, similar to the New York Supreme Court. Both the "supreme court" and the actual highest court were composed in a radically different manner than the current supreme court or its inferior courts.
Under the 1776 constitution
Under the colonial constitution of 1776 the upper house of the legislature (which was styled the Legislative Council) along with the governor was to be "the Court of Appeals", defined as the court of last resort, similar to the Law Lords of Great Britain. A separate "Supreme Court" was also mentioned, but no indication of its duties was given, only term limits of its judges (7 years).
As time progressed and political philosophies changed, people took issue with numerous parts of the original constitution: It was hastily thrown together, used property qualifications for enfranchisement, contained scant bill of rights|guarantees of freedoms, was unamendable, and freely intermingled the three branches of government.
Under the 1844 constitution
In 1844, the state ratified a new constitution, which continued the practice of having a non-supreme Supreme Court. Under this constitution the highest court was the New Jersey Court of Errors and Appeals or Court of Errors for short, its sole function was to hear appeals from previous courts' errors in judgment. The new Court of Errors was now composed of various separate judicial officials instead of legislators and the executive. The membership was to consist of the chancellor of the state's court of chancery, who was to be the president, the justices of the supreme court (originally four, legally anything from 2 on up), and 6 appointed judges. The latter six were to be continually replaced at a rate of one per year. The Secretary of State of New Jersey was to serve as the court's clerk, and he and the justices were appointed by the governor with the consent of the New Jersey Senate. The Supreme Court was the second after the Court of Errors, handing all civil cases and criminal cases concerning 3,000 USD or more, and the judges were also appointed by the governor.
The new arrangement was old when it began, the basic system having "changed relatively little since the time of George III", and characterized as "the most antiquated [...] that exists in any considerable community of English-speaking people."
This arrangement became strained as more cases came before the court (In 1846, seven cases were heard by the court, as many members had other official duties specified by the constitution. A member of the Senate called the 16 Judge institution "little larger than a jury, little less than a mob."The 1942 commission tasked with considering constitutional change suggested that it be reduced to a seven member panel, all appointed solely to serve on the court. The constitutional convention adopted that as the current system of composition of the court.
Under the current (1947 and amended) constitution, the highest court in the state is the Supreme Court. Constitutionally, it has no original jurisdiction, hearing only appeals and issuing final decisions, regulating the state's court system and regulating the legal profession within the state.
Normally an appeal from a case goes to the New Jersey Superior Court and from there to the Appellate Division of that court. However, appeals may be brought before the supreme court if it meets one or more of the following four requirements or if a law provides that the case may go to the Court: If the case involves a question of constitutionality (as determined by the Appellate Division of the Superior Court), if a judge of the Appellate Division of the Superior Court dissented in its ruling, if the case involves the use of capital punishment, if the Supreme Court granted certification, or if the case involves the drawing of political boundaries (see below).
The court also serves as something of a tie-breaker in case the 10-member New Jersey Redistricting Commission fails to come to an agreement on how redistrict the state's Congressional districts following the United States Census every decade. If the commission reports ("certifies") to the court that they're evenly divided, the commission gets to pick two people to be the 11th member. The court appoints the one that's "more qualified" to be the 11th "independent" member who will then break the tie. If they cannot reach a 7-4 supermajority in favor of one districting configuration, they send the two most preferred plans to the court, which then gets to pick. In the case of the Apportionment Commission for state legislative districts, the Chief Justice alone gets to pick the final member of the Commission.
The court also acts as final arbiter of the inability or absence of the Governor of New Jersey or Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey, following a declaration by the Legislature. Similar to the federal setup, in case of impeachment of the Governor, the Chief Justice presides.
Appointment, composition, and life on the bench
The Governor nominates all Justices to the Court but may chose only among those admitted to the New Jersey bar for at least ten years. Following seven days of public notice, nominees are put before the Senate for "advice and consent." Once confirmed, Justices (and all state judges in New Jersey) serve for an initial term of seven years. After their initial term, the Governor may choose to nominate them for tenure, sending the nomination for tenure to the State Senate, which must again decide whether or not to grant advice and consent. Judges confirmed to a tenured position on the Court serve until they die, resign, retire or are retired, are impeached and removed, or reach the age of 70, at which point they are automatically retired.
The Court consists of seven justices, one of whom serves as the Chief Justice. Should the court not meet its quorum of five, the Chief Justice may select judges from the Superior Court, senior in service, to serve temporarily on the Supreme Court.
Once in office, their salary (currently 158,500 USD, the 7th highest among state high courts) may not be decreased by the Legislature. While sitting on the bench, they are not to practice law or make money any other way.
A majority of the General Assembly may pass articles of impeachment against a Justice, which the Senate will then try. Only a two-thirds majority will convict, and the Senate may punish a convicted Justice with only removal from office and prohibition on holding future office. After a Justice has been impeached by the General Assembly--but before the Senate renders a verdict on the charges--the Justice may not exercise any official function. By virtue of accepting a position in the Executive or Legislative branches of government or becoming a candidate for political office, a Justice is considered as resigned from the bench.
Should a Justice or Judge become "incapacitated" to the point at which they can no longer continue in office, the Court as a whole may notify the governor. The governor then appoints a three man commission and, depending on their decision, may force them to retire.
By tradition, a partisan balance is maintained on the Supreme Court, with the sitting governor permitted to arrange his appointments so that his party has a one-seat advantage. As a result, the Court currently has four Democrats, two Republicans, and one Independent. (The Independent Justice, who was appointed by a Republican governor and was a political appointee in Republican administrations, is counted as a Republican for this purpose.)
The tradition of partisan balance can occasionally influence the governor's selection of a Chief Justice, a fact most recently demonstrated when Chief Justice Deborah Poritz, a Republican, reached the mandatory retirement age in 2006. In order to avoid appointing a Republican to the highest judicial position in the state, the Democratic governor, Jon Corzine, instead elevated Associate Justice James Zazzali, a fellow Democrat, to the chief justice position and appointed a Republican to fill Zazzali's old seat. When Zazzali reached the age of 70 less than a year later, Corzine was able to nominate a Democrat, then-Attorney General and former federal prosecutor Stuart Rabner, to serve as Chief Justice. The state Senate confirmed Rabner on 21 June 2007, and he was sworn in as Chief Justice eight days later.
Providing Governor Corzine serves a full term, he will be able submit or deny tenure for Justice Albin, whose initial seven year terms will end before January 17, 2010. Tradition in New Jersey dictates that the Governor re-submits for tenure the Justices whose initial terms have expired and Governor Corzine has followed this tradition with his re-appointments of Justices Long and LaVecchia.
|Name||Sworn in||Term expiration||Mandatory retirement||Appointing Governor||Party membership|
|Virginia Long||September 1, 1999||None — Tenured||March 1, 2012||Christine Todd Whitman, New Jersey Republican Party||Democrat|
|Jaynee LaVecchia||February 1, [[2000||None — Tenured||October 9, 2024||Christine Todd Whitman, New Jersey Republican Party||Independent|
|Barry T. Albin||September 18, 2002||September 18, 2009||July 7, 2022||Jim McGreevey, New Jersey Democratic Party||Democratic|
|John E. Wallace, Jr.||May 20, 2003||May 20, 2010||2012||Jim McGreevey, New Jersey Democratic Party||Democratic|
|Roberto A. Rivera-Soto||September 1, 2004||September 1, 2011||November 10, 2023||Jim McGreevey, New Jersey Democratic Party||Republican|
|Helen E. Hoens||October 26, 2006||October 26, 2013||July 31, 2024||Jon Corzine, New Jersey Democratic Party||Republican|
|Chief Justice Stuart Rabner||29 June 2007||29 June 2014||2031||Jon Corzine, New Jersey Democratic Party||Democratic |
The following individuals have served as Chief Justice:
- 1779-1789: David Brearley.
- 1789-1803: James Kinsey.
- 1804-1825: Andrew Kirkpatrick
- 1824-1832: Charles Ewing
- 1933-1946: Thomas J. Brogan
- 1946-1948: Clarence E. Case
- 1948-1957: Arthur T. Vanderbilt
- 1957-1973: Joseph Weintraub
- 1973-1973: Pierre P. Garven
- 1973-1979: Richard J. Hughes
- 1979-1996: Robert Wilentz
- 1996-2006: Deborah T. Poritz
- 2006-2007: James R. Zazzali
- 2007- : Stuart Rabner
The New Jersey Supreme Court has been involved with many cases of landmark importance. Some, such as Holmes v. Walton, were to foreshadow more well known cases of the same effect. Some were precedent setting because the case was overturned by a higher court with a different conclusion. Since the 1970's, a number of the Court's major rulings have been seen as demonstrating a liberal bent -- a trend which has involved both Republican-appointed and Democratic-appointed justices. During the same period, the Court has been accused of (and sometimes praised for) being "activist".
The principle of judicial review in New Jersey was the result of then Chief Justice David Brearley's opinion in Holmes v. Walton (1780 or 1779). While the case was decided against the plaintiff, the court's consideration of the matter asserted its ability to determine constitutionality. This was followed up by the federal Supreme Court's case of Marbury v. Madison.
In State v. Post and State v. Van Beuren 20 N.J.L. 368, decided together, the constitutionality of slavery in the state was challenged on the grounds that the first article of the first section of the newly passed (1844) state constitution ("All men are by nature free and independent...") precluded it. The court by two to one (with one absence), rejected this stating that "the constitution has not ... abolished slavery." This was overturned on December 18, 1865, with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The Court has delivered many cases concerning the rights of individuals, in many cases reading them expansively:
In 1966 Clover Hill Swimming Club, Inc. v. Robert F. Goldsboro and Division on Civil Rights (47 N.J. 25; 219 A.2d 161; 1966 N.J. LEXIS 180) the court ruled against the Club, which had denied membership to an African-American. The club claimed that as a private organization it could choose its own membership even though they had advertised in local newspapers and magazines.
In State ex rel. T. L. O., 463 A. 2d 934 (1983) the court decided, against two lower courts, that a search of a student's purse without a warrant was unreasonable. This was appealed as New Jersey v. T. L. O. 469 U.S. 325 (1985) wherein the United States Supreme Court ruled that students and minors have a lower expectation of privacy, saying in its noted ruling that "school officials need not obtain a warrant before searching a student who is under their authority."
In re Quinlan 355 A.2d 647 concerned the right to die of Karen Ann Quinlan, who was in a persistent vegetative state following prolonged respiratory failure. Her parents (and legal guardians) requested to have her ventilator removed, which the officials at the hospital refused to do. The court ultimately ruled in her parents favor. She continued to live without artificial respiration for several years afterwards.
In 1988, the Court ruled in In re Baby M (537 A.2d 1227, 109 N.J. 396) that the surrogate mother of Baby M, despite previous rulings denying her custody, was entitled to visitation rights.
Dale v. Boy Scouts of America (160 N.J. 562 (1999)) concerned the right of the Boy Scouts of America organization to expel a member for declaring himself to be homosexual. James Dale, the plaintiff, was a member of the organization for some years before he made his orientation public. Upon discovering this, the district BSA council revoked his membership. Dale sued for violating the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, which the court unanimously agreed applied to the BSA. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, 530 U.S. 640 (2000), a 5-4 decision. The later Apprendi v. New Jersey was also overruled.
The court's 2006 decision in Caballero v. Martinez concerned an illegal immigrant, Victor Manuel Caballero, who was injured during an accident while riding in an uninsured vehicle driven by an unlicensed person. The Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment Fund, set up to cover injuries by uninsured drivers, refused to compensate him as he wasn't a legal resident. The Court on hearing his case overruled two lower courts and declared that he was entitled to compensation from the fund, stating that "a person may be a 'resident' even if the intent to remain ultimately is not realized."Previously an individual who had lived five months with relatives was not a resident with respect to the Fund.
In Lewis v. Harris, the Court returned a verdict requiring that the legislature must change state law, within 180 days, to afford equal protection to same-sex couples. The decision does not require use of the word "marriage," but rather equality of rights.
Social and political cases
In Abbott v. Burke (1981), or Abbott I, which was filed on behalf of students of the most depressed school districts. The Court decided that a single test must be applied state-wide to determine if students were getting the constitutionally mandated education. Also, the Abbott districts are given state aid to match the operating budget of the richer districts. Since then there have been seven "Abbott cases", many of which ended with the court finding the New Jersey Legislature's latest educational acts unconstitutional.
In 1975 and 1983, two cases, both named Southern Burlington County N.A.A.C.P. v. Mount Laurel Township, were decided by the Court. The Constitution was interpreted to require that zoning authorities inclusionarily zone their land to create affordable housing, that the districts had to equally take on the required load of housing, and that exclusionary zoning was illegal. These requirements are now commonly referred to as the Mount Laurel Doctrine|Mount Laurel Doctrine.
In Democratic Party v. Samson (814 A.2d 1028) the Court allowed the state Democratic Party to change their candidate for the upcoming federal Senate race from Robert Torricelli to Frank Lautenberg despite the deadline having passed. In its opinion it cited previous cases before the Court, including one stating "Election laws are to be liberally construed", to decide that the change was in the interest of the electorate
State v. Kelly, 91 N.J. 178 (1984), is a Supreme Court case where the defendant, Gladys Kelly, was on trial for the murder of her husband, Ernest Kelly with a pair of scissors. The Supreme Court reversed the case for further trial after finding that expert testimony regarding the defence's submission, that Kelly suffered from battered woman syndrome, was incorrectly excluded since battered woman syndrome was a proper subject for expert evidence despite being a new field.
- The Court's official web site
- Writs of Certification granted
- A graphical explanation of how the court fits into the system