Justice Marie L. Garibaldi 1934-2016 Shatterer of Glass Ceilings

marie-garibaldiI have just learned of the death of the first woman ever to serve on New Jersey’s Supreme Court. Justice Marie L. Garibaldi died Friday at Hackensack Medical Center, where she served on the Board. Garibaldi was appointed to the high court by Gov. Tom Kean in 1982, and retired in 1999, when Christie Todd Whitman was governor.

There are people who know much more about Garibaldi than I do; I’m nobody’s expert in New Jersey’s legal history. There were a couple cases I take issue with. One is Kelly v. Gwinnell, which you will know as the first case that held a host liable if a drunken guest got behind the wheel of a car and injured or killed somebody. Despite the fact that I once knocked a high school classmate out cold to keep him from driving after a boozy cast party, I side with the personal responsibility crowd on the question of who’s responsible for how much alcohol is consumed. The other place I sharply disagreed with Garibaldi is New Jersey Coalition Against War in the Middle East. v. JMB Realty Corp, that ruled shopping malls have replaced American public parks and town squares as traditional homes of both the soapbox and free speech, and so must allow access to protesters who want to use the space to leaflet. In that case, opponents of the Persian Gulf War. I’ve used that opinion several times to gain access for politics organizing, more than once with advice from Frank Askin, one of the lawyers who argued the case for ACLU-NJ (Askin now runs the Constitutional Law Clinic at Rutgers Law School, Newark). Unfortunately, Garibaldi wrote the dissenting opinion against.

But there’s one case I remember Garibaldi for that at the time I thought was fist-pumping great, and one action years later when she retired that I was grateful for:

Frank v. Ivy Club, 1990 – In 1979, Sally Frank, a Princeton undergrad (class of 1980), filed suit against three of the university’s fabled eating clubs – The Ivy ClubThe Tiger Inn, and The Cottage Club – all fabled as bastions of exclusivity, preppy history and elitism, famously described by F. Scott Fitzgerald in his 1920 novel This Side of Paradise

They were each the kind of club that could supply a Princeton grad with a lifetime of contacts and recommendations to ensure the kind of cushy future some people expect Ivy League schools to provide (as they often do). And they were also not only the place to dine but the hub of all social activity. But Princeton didn’t even admit women undergrads until 1969, and by 1979, when Sally Frank was a student, those prestigious clubs were still hanging onto their men-only tradition. When she tried to join, they treated her like crap, with abusive taunts, even throwing beer on her. [Some of the “gentlemen” of Tiger Inn were still treating Frank like crap as recently as December 2014]. She sued for gender discrimination. It took eleven years for the case to shake out, by which time Sally Frank was a 31-year old professor at NYU Law School. Marie Garibaldi wrote the opinion for the Court, saying the clubs had to end their practice of excluding women purely on the basis of the applicant’s gender. It changed Princeton’s culture.

8 retired NJ Supreme Court justices to Gov. Christie: Reconsider on Justice John Wallace: Garibaldi was one of eight former justices of NJ’s high court who signed a 2010 letter to Gov. Chris Christie after he failed to reappoint Justice John Wallace, the only sitting African-American judge on the NJ Supreme Court. The decision to jettison a sitting justice was unprecedented, and sparked a political firestorm as it became evident that Christie was trying to use his executive powers to remake the Court. Christie, responding to Court decisions he and other right-wingers didn’t like (school funding, affordable housing) said the Court was “out of control”. With concern that the independence of New Jersey’s judicial branch was itself at stake, the eight retired justices issued a 3-page statement that argued the Constitutional case for retaining Wallace, not the political one. (Christie, of course, ignored them).

Garibaldi is also the first woman ever to head up the NJ State Bar Association. An interesting woman, a shatterer of glass ceilings, She was 81.


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