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Chief Justice Arthur T. Vanderbilt

Chief Justice Arthur T. Vanderbilt (1948-1957)


Arthur T. Vanderbilt was a larger-than-life personality of enormous energy and ambition. Vanderbilt excelled at six professional roles, all related to the rule of law: lawyer; law school professor; partisan political leader; law school dean; judicial reformer; and judge. At the time he left the practice of law to serve on the New Jersey Supreme Court, he was one of the best-known and most respected attorneys in the nation. He was considered for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As the driving force behind the adoption of the 1947 Constitution and the first Chief Justice of New Jersey’s modern Supreme Court under that charter, it’s easy to idealize him; yet Vanderbilt could be as tough as he was smart, and was slow to forgive anyone who crossed him. He exuded an intensity that either attracted people or repelled them, but never left them unaffected. As one long-time ally observed, “I doubt that he had many close friends. He was a team player, but only if he could serve as captain. ... He was a driven man, standing above his peers, admired by many and hated by some.”

What’s more, Vanderbilt craved power to bend the world to his vision as a progressive, and could be ruthless when he had to be. As Thomas E. Dewey summed up his life:  “Arthur T. Vanderbilt was a robust, hardy, vigorous man who was not just a scholar, or just a teacher, or just a reformer; he was a man with a twinkle in his eye – a  man with two tough fists and a sharp tongue who could go in and fight harder and better than anybody else around him when it was necessary for a client or for a cause.  He was a man who selected his causes with wisdom and then gave them a degree of vigor and imagination which has been rarely equaled in our history”.

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Education and Early Years as an Attorney

Arthur T. Vanderbilt wasn’t a patrician but he had the bearing of one, and despite his surname (distant kin of the railroad tycoon), his beginnings were humble. Vanderbilt’s family roots in New Jersey predated the American Revolution by several generations. Vanderbilt was born in Newark on July 7, 1888. Arthur attended public schools and spent his youth in the Roseville neighborhood, in a tiny two-story frame house on North Ninth Street, near a bustling train station. He was Valedictorian of his graduating class at Newark High School, and popular among fellow students. Arthur was class president for four years; and in college, achieved the same rank of both his class and the entire student body.

Delaying entry to college for a year, to work and save money, Arthur received his undergraduate degree from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, and his law degree from Columbia University in New York City. He had such a hunger for education that when he graduated from Wesleyan in 1910, he had earned enough credits for a post-graduate degree.  Arthur completed the required Master’s dissertation during his first year of law school and returned to Wesleyan the following spring to receive his Master’s degree in public administration. Yet that wasn’t enough. During his three years of law school, Arthur taught classes nightly at Newark’s Central Evening High School, a program for immigrant factory workers.  He valued the education of everyone.

As a young man, Arthur stood five feet ten inches tall and weighed 175 pounds; he was of medium build and fair complexion, with thick dark hair parted in the center. Always well dressed, he was the picture of the earnest student, eager to learn.

Vanderbilt’s first position as a lawyer was with Newark attorney, Frank Sommer, who became his role model and mentor. Sommer was also the Dean of the New York University School of Law and offered Arthur his first teaching position in 1915. For over 30 years, Vanderbilt commuted two nights per week to teach the law. During one semester or another, he taught almost every subject in the law school curriculum. Others might have viewed trekking repeatedly from Newark to Manhattan as drudgery, but for Vanderbilt it was a respite. Twice a week he was free from the tensions of his law practice. He could educate, entertain, and regale his students with his experiences in the courtroom and in politics.

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An Archaic Court System

From his early years in the law, Vanderbilt was known as a legal reformer, someone who believed that when people have legal problems – large or small – the courts must be a sanctuary, a place where all citizens know they will be treated fairly. Vanderbilt’s mission was to level the floors in New Jersey’s courtrooms by creating a professional and autonomous judiciary. At the time he graduated from law school, New Jersey’s court system was one of the least respected in the country. “Archaic" is a kind description. The state’s court system had been passed down from the eighteenth century, with few changes since the adoption of the original constitution in 1776.

New Jersey’s judiciary was best known for its delays, confusion, and uncertainty which were the product of two separate court systems, overlapping jurisdictions, ancient rules, and puppet judges. The hodgepodge of courts, which had evolved over the centuries at the whim of politicians, was at best hit or miss when it came to ensuring the rule of law. At the time, New Jersey’s courts didn’t exist for the average person, rather, they existed to protect the powerful from change and to serve the people who made their incomes from the system. Vanderbilt bristled at such a mind-set.

In 1930, the N.J. State Bar Association created a committee called the New Jersey Judicial Council, to recommend measures for improving judicial administration. Because of the reputation he had earned through speeches, letters to the editor and position papers on the courts, Vanderbilt was appointed to the committee. He was promptly chosen chairman, serving in that position for two five-year terms. In addition to his reform efforts in New Jersey, in 1937, at the age of 48, Vanderbilt was named president of the American Bar Association, the youngest president in its history. He used his year in office to challenge the profession to improve the administration of justice in the nation’s courts and administrative tribunals, traveling 72,000 miles and visiting 39 states to spread his gospel of reform. His work led to his being named to the committees of lawyers and judges which drafted the legislation creating the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the Administrative Procedure Act, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedures, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Yet reform in his home state remained elusive.

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Struggle to Achieve Reform in New Jersey

Vanderbilt understood that true reform of the Courts would be a battle. Too many people – mostly lawyers and politicians – profited from the status quo and weren’t about to lose control of the court system without a fight. He understood that change could only come through politics. By his calculations, his biggest obstacle to reforming the Courts was the alliance between Jersey City’s Mayor, Democrat Frank Hague, and old guard Republicans from rural New Jersey counties.  Throughout the better part of two decades, Frank Hague was Vanderbilt’s nemesis, and over time Vanderbilt grew to hate Hague, referring to the Mayor as “the two-bit Hitler on the Hudson.”

Hague viewed the world from a different place than Vanderbilt. Frank Hague was born in 1855 into abject poverty, on a kitchen table. Those Irish that arrived in Hudson County during the 1850s thru 1870s were met by nasty prejudice against both their nationality and religion. The White Anglo Saxon Protestant (“WASP”) Republicans were determined to deprive the Irish Catholics from having a voice in government. With the support of the Republican legislators in Trenton, Jersey City’s WASP politicians crafted a city charter that created voting districts which concentrated as many Irish as possible into a single horseshoe-shaped district. It was a vicious gerrymander, quickly dubbed “the Horseshoe.”  This voting district became Hague’s power base

Growing up in the Horseshoe, young Frank Hague learned early on to hate all WASP Republicans. Education didn’t count for much in the Horseshoe.  By age thirteen - in the sixth grade - Frank was expelled from school as an “incorrigible;” his education continued on the streets.  For more than two decades, Hague worked tirelessly for the Hudson County Democratic Organization; he knew every person in the Horseshoe, and became a master at rounding up votes.

After serving in several elected positions, in 1917 Hague became Mayor of Jersey City and the undisputed “Boss” of Hudson County politics. Because of the harsh prejudice they and their parents had experienced upon arriving in the U.S., tens of thousands of Irish Catholics of Hudson County (New Jersey’s most populace county) were willing to place their votes at Hague’s disposal in fighting a religious war. Hague exploited that hunger for revenge for all it was worth.

Following the gubernatorial election of 1925, Hague was a state-wide force. His ability to crank out the vote in Hudson County gave him influence over every New Jersey governor from 1916 to 1940. Politics can make strange bedfellows and Hague used that influence to control hundreds of gubernatorial appointments, rewarding those Republican politicians willing to play ball with him. Through those appointments, Hague forged a partnership with rural Republicans that became the primary road block to Vanderbilt’s plans for reform.
See Battleground New Jersey, Rutgers University Press, 2014.

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Vanderbilt Enters Politics to Pursue Reform

Despite enormous success as an attorney – with as many as seventeen associates and an international insurance law practice based in Newark – Vanderbilt knew that his ideas on reform would never gain traction unless he had a state-wide power base of his own to counter that of Frank Hague. In 1920, Vanderbilt jumped into politics feet first and within three years had control of the Essex County Republican politics. In that era the combined population of Hudson and Essex Counties represented nearly forty percent of New Jersey’s population, thus, control of the legislators from those counties was always critical in enacting legislation. Vanderbilt started the Essex County “Republican League" which later became the “Clean Government" and for nearly thirty years, used his political power to select candidates committed to judicial reform. Vanderbilt could play “hard ball" with the best of them and slowly, election by election, he built a network of reform-minded politicians in every urban county. An astute, calculating, take no prisoners type of politician, by 1937 Vanderbilt held sway over which Republicans could run for state-wide office in New Jersey.

Mayor Hague and his rural Republican allies welcomed the fight. They benefited greatly from friendly judges who favored political cronies, not to mention the numerous political plums (no-show jobs) sprinkled throughout the court system, all at the expense of the taxpayers. With the ranks of reform legislators growing in Trenton, Vanderbilt and his allies began introducing measures to reform the court system. They reaped only frustration. Between 1935 and 1943, time and again, reform legislation written by Vanderbilt was passed in the New Jersey Assembly, only to have it die in the Senate without a vote being taken; there was even a measure approved by the Senate, defeated in the Assembly. Hague was toying with the reformers.

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Vanderbilt and NYU Law School

In the midst of all that he was doing in the law and politics, Vanderbilt remained devoted to his teaching of law students. In January of 1943, after 28 years as a professor, Vanderbilt accepted another major responsibility, Dean of the New York University School of Law. “We need some fundamental changes made in legal education," he wrote to a friend, “and I hope I shall be able to bring them about in at least one law school."

Bring them about he did; perhaps never before had an institution been so completely and quickly transformed. The School was located in the top two floors of an old warehouse in Washington Square, and its reputation had fallen to a low ebb in the legal community. Vanderbilt began expanding the scope of the curriculum to include areas such as tax law, which would be important in a post-war world, and began hiring recognized law professors to implement these changes. He expanded the School’s publication program to include such innovations as the Annual Survey of American Law and a Tax Law Review whose circulation in a year exceeded that of any other law review in the country. His goal was to develop the School into one of the leading law schools of the nation, both by strengthening it financially, and establishing establishing a national law center, an idea that had been long germinating in his thoughts.  The goal was to attract students, professors, and funds to the School while creating a force for the systematic and continuous modernization of the law.

Vanderbilt created continuing legal education programs and graduate programs, conferences, and an Inter-American Law Institute which yearly granted fellowships to outstanding law students from Central and South America to study at NYU, while lawyers studied Latin American law in the graduate courses of the School. The Law Center also established the Root Tilden Scholarship Program to attract top college students who showed promise for civic leadership, and an Institute of Judicial Administration as an agency to coordinate the nationwide movement to improve the administration of justice.

Vanderbilt realized a campaign to renovate the old Law School building would inspire no one, and set about to raise funds for a new building for the School and the Law Center. By the time Vanderbilt resigned as Dean in September of 1948 to begin his work as Chief Justice, the funds had been raised. On January 31, 1950, the cornerstone was laid on the School of Law and Law Center which was named Arthur T. Vanderbilt Hall in recognition of his services to the University.

Prior to winding down his law practice and severing ties with the School of Law before he became Chief Justice, an important matter needed to be resolved. As if he didn’t have enough to do in preparing to serve as New Jersey’s first Chief Justice - and while convalescing from his stroke - Vanderbilt found time to tie down a large loose end at NYU Law School, namely, financing its future. In the summer of 1947, Dean Vanderbilt orchestrated the purchase of the C.F. Mueller Company for $3.5 million, with help from a contribution from a client ($500,000 paid in lieu of a fee) and financing by the Prudential Insurance Co., another client of Vanderbilt. Mueller’s sole business mission was the manufacture and sale of egg noodles. The purchase proved to be a cash cow. So much so, that the University grew envious of the money flowing into the Law School.

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Battle of the Titans:  Vanderbilt v. Hague

One Hague gesture was like a poke in Vanderbilt’s eye, namely, the appointment of Frank Hague Jr., to New Jersey’s highest court. In February, 1939, Hague’s puppet-governor, Harry Moore nominated the Mayor’s son, thirty-four-year-old Frank Jr., to serve on the Court of Errors and Appeals. Frank Jr. had dawdled away eight years attending Princeton University, the University of Virginia School of Law, and Washington and Lee University School of Law – without receiving a degree from any of them. Somehow, he managed to pass the New Jersey bar examination. Vanderbilt viewed Frank Jr.’s appointment as an affront to the very idea of an independent judiciary and organized a fierce opposition to the nomination, but when the votes were counted in the State Senate, Hague got his way. Vanderbilt was incensed.

Vanderbilt’s response was to attack Hague’s record as a political boss.  He was determined to produce a full length book damning Frank Hague, a book scholarly in appearance yet calculated to destroy its subject’s character.  Vanderbilt set out secretly to write a book on Hague’s dominance of politics in Hudson County.  By the latter part of 1940, Vanderbilt’s handiwork was published.  The book,  The Boss:  The Hague Machine In Action, was nominally authored by a Dartmouth professor, David Dayton McKean.  With financial inducements from the secret co-author, the book was placed with a major publisher who had outlets in all forty-eight states.  The Mayor of Jersey City was also vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Vanderbilt wanted Hague’s friends nationwide to learn more about his career.  The Boss besmirched Frank Hague’s name for all time in U.S. History.  Vanderbilt and McKean never shared their secret, and Frank Hague went to his grave never knowing that the WASP Republican in Newark had masterminded the project.  Most historians view The Boss as the beginning of the end of Frank Hague’s dominance of New Jersey politics.

In terms of the person who represented the beginning of the end for Frank Hague, and likewise the true beginning of a solid path to judicial reform, that person was Governor Charles Edison who was elected in 1940.  Judicial reform was high on the new governor’s agenda. Like Vanderbilt, Edison took every opportunity to speak on the need for judicial reform, yet, thanks to Hague, none of the reform measures he proposed ever made it onto the ballot.

Finally, under the leadership of Vanderbilt ally, Governor Walter Edge (elected in 1943), who had previously served as Governor, U.S. Senator and Ambassador to France (as skillful a politician as there ever was in New Jersey), the Legislature approved a referendum for a new state constitution to be voted on in November of 1944. Yet Hague had a weapon which the reformers never saw coming – the Roman Catholic Church.  Two days before the vote on the referendum which Vanderbilt and Governor Edge believed would propel New Jersey forward, Roman Catholics were falsely told from the pulpit that bingo was in jeopardy. An anonymous letter (likely written by the Archbishop) was delivered to every Catholic Church the week before the election. The letter instructed each parish priest to tell his congregation to vote against the new constitution. On Tuesday, November 7, 1944, voters went to the polls and defeated the referendum by a margin of 126,000 votes out of the 1.4 million cast; the plurality of “no votes” in Hudson County exceeded 87,000.

Despite Hague’s ability to employ the Church in his opposition to reform, Vanderbilt sensed that public sentiment for judicial reform was growing. With the help of out-going Governor Edge, Vanderbilt recruited a young progressive Republican to run for Governor in 1946.

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Reform Finally Arrives

Alfred Driscoll was a forty-five-year-old lawyer who had spent significant time in government.  His time in Trenton brought Driscoll into contact with the small but growing circle of academics and attorneys working for reform and he became a serious student of constitutional reform issues.  In short, Driscoll bought into the vision of overhauling state government and was better equipped to handle the task than anyone knew.

In his inaugural address of January 21, 1947, Driscoll framed the defeat of the 1944 referendum as a rejection of a proposal prepared exclusively by Republicans rather than a vote of confidence for the antiquated Constitution of 1844. What he envisioned was a convention where people from throughout the state would work together in drafting a new constitution. From the start, Governor Driscoll was committed to reaching across party lines to strike an agreement with Frank Hague. He knew he wouldn’t gain the support of the rural Republicans, but if he could make a deal with Hague’s Hudson County Organization then a successful convention and new constitution were possible.

History smiled on the young Governor in that one of his Democratic friends from his days in the Senate, Senator Edgar O’Mara, had the trust and confidence of Mayor Hague. Senator O’Mara understood well the need for judicial reform. He was not only a practicing attorney, but had taught law at Fordham University Law School and knew that New Jersey’s court system was an embarrassment across the nation. With O’Mara working as the go-between, Driscoll used the power of his office to gain Hague’s support.  In exchange for the backing of the Hudson County Organization, Driscoll agreed to: (1) revise the railroad laws to aid Jersey City in receiving additional revenue from railroad property within its borders; (2) issue an executive order releasing $5 million in railroad tax money (equivalent to $60 million today) frozen by Governor Edge; (3) instruct the attorney general to cease an investigation of illegal gambling in Hudson County; (4) remove the Hudson County superintendent of elections appointed by Governor Edge.

It’s no secret that Vanderbilt disapproved of Driscoll’s bargaining with Hague, but in May of 1947 Vanderbilt suffered a stroke and was forced to convalesce at his summer home in Maine. In his absence, Frank Sommer and former Vanderbilt law firm associate, Nathan Jacobs, Driscoll's law school classmate, served as the go-between to keep the future Chief Justice informed of the Governor’s plans and the negotiations during the constitutional convention that summer at Rutgers University. The document produced by that convention called for a total transformation of New Jersey’s government.

That November, the referendum was approved by a huge majority: the “yes” votes were three and one-half times the “noes” – 633,096 to 180,632 – carrying Hudson County by a margin of 131,000 votes. The most critical element of the new constitution, was the abolishment of the dual court system comprised of seventeen different courts, each with its own set of antiquated court rules. It was replaced by a unified/integrated court system with a centralized administration of justice under the leadership of a strong Chief Justice and Supreme Court. The judicial system created under the 1947 Constitution banished politics from the courthouse, and assured the public that judges would be competent, impartial, and accountable.

In a retrospective essay on the Law School’s relationship with the University, thirty years afterwards, The New Yorker magazine described Vanderbilt as “a dean of pluck as well as vision." The deal Vanderbilt struck not only nurtured the law school, and realized Vanderbilt’s dream of a “law center," but proved essential to the University’s finances. Sold thirty years after its acquisition, the noodle factory yielded $115 million, which benefited both the Law School and University.

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Vanderbilt as Chief Justice

Despite adoption of a new constitution, the fight for judicial reform wasn’t over. There is only so much power to go around, and when the old guard of the Republican Party sitting in the State Legislature realized that they had ceded power to a stronger Governor and no longer controlled the judges, they fought back. The politicians were determined to meddle with the courts to their own selfish ends. The old guard judges, gray-haired trial lawyers, and lay municipal judges now forced to work under a new set of standards beyond their control, had powerful friends in Trenton. Through the adoption of eight separate bills, the politicians tried to whittle down the independence of the newly formed unified/integrated court system. Each time, Governor Driscoll vetoed their legislation. Each time he delivered a public veto message which essentially said, “hands off the courts!" The new court system was blessed to have such a bold ally and defender in Governor Driscoll who helped prevent the erosion of the judiciary’s independence and authority.

True to form, Arthur Vanderbilt also had a role in establishing the judiciary’s independence. Ever the shrewd political operative, the new Chief Justice was looking for the opportunity to send a message of his own to the politicians seeking to whittle down the new court system’s power. His chance came in the spring of 1950 on an appeal involving a dispute that, on its face, didn’t appear to warrant such a brazen ruling.

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Winberry v. Salisbury

In February of 1949, John Winberry, a New Brunswick lawyer, filed suit in the Superior Court seeking a court order to expunge a presentment of the Middlesex County Grand Jury, the findings of which, he believed, defamed him. The nominal defendant in the lawsuit was Burton Salisbury, the foreman of the grand jury. The facts leading up to the presentment were of minor importance. What caught Vanderbilt’s attention was the appeal taken by Winberry when his lawsuit was dismissed by the trial judge who concluded it had no merit. His complaint was dismissed on May 25, 1949, yet he did not file his appeal until July 26, 1949, seventeen days after the forty-five-day appeal period provided by the new court rules adopted by the state Supreme Court in September, 1948. In his appeal, Winberry relied upon a statute from years earlier, which permitted one year in which to file an appeal and asserted that, as stated in the Judicial Article of the new Constitution, all court rules were “subject to law." He argued that if there was conflict between the court rules and the statute, the one-year statutory appeal period controlled, and his appeal must therefore be heard by the court, notwithstanding his failure to file it within the time period provided by the Court Rules

On appeal, the Appellate Division upheld the dismissal based on the late filing. It agreed that “subject to law" meant that “the Legislature is given final word in matters of procedure [and that] it may . . . nullify a procedural rule [of] the Supreme Court," but because the Legislature had taken no action to void the Court Rules, the forty-five-day appeal period controlled

Vanderbilt couldn’t abide an opinion that questioned his Court’s power to promulgate the Court Rules, free of legislative control. Seeing this as an occasion to stake out the Supreme Court’s territory, he carefully crafted a bold opinion for five of the seven justices, asserting the Court’s exclusive authority to control its domain and making it clear that the state’s high court had the final say on interpreting the Constitution. His ruling was a shot across the bow of the Legislature, letting its members know that he intended to interpret the new Constitution as he believed necessary in order to preserve an independent judiciary. If the old guard politico-legal establishment wanted to create a constitutional crisis through its belligerent interference with reform of the judiciary approved by the voters, so be it. He was ready to do battle with the politicians in the court of public opinion.

Eloquent as ever, the Chief Justice launched into a lesson in law, history, and semantics, proclaiming “that the rule-making power of the Supreme Court is not subject to overriding legislation" and declaring that “[w]hatever confusion there may be as to the nature of the rule making power stems from an oversimplification of the doctrine of the separation of powers." Masterfully obscuring the issue and blurring recent history of public discussions on the phrase “subject to law," he stated that the phrase did not mean “subject to statutory law or legislation," because “[i]f this is what the Constitutional Convention intended, it would have been easy for it to say so." Demonstrating his knowledge of seventeenth-century British history, he traced the roots of the dispute to the doctrine of parliamentary supremacy and the Glorious Revolution of 1689, which had resulted in the English Parliament’s overthrow of King James II, equating that with the “legislative hegemony "existing in the United States prior to the American Civil War. The Chief Justice was telling the legislators they were no longer “supreme."

The legislators were outraged, but with Governor Driscoll’s backing, Vanderbilt’s ruling became the law as to the adoption of Court Rules in New Jersey. Nearly seventy years later, what was then perceived as the Chief Justice’s brash snatch of power from the Legislature is now the norm; each September since the decision in Winberry v. Salisbury 5 N.J. 249 (1950), the New Jersey Supreme Court issues the annually updated Rules Governing the Courts without any assistance from the Legislature.

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Fox v. Snow

A final opinion by Vanderbilt is one in which he was the lone dissenter. In Fox v. Snow, 6 N.J. 12 (1950), Vanderbilt wrote an eloquent dissent: quoted many time by other courts across the nation. Fox dealt with a dispute between heirs to an estate. A deceased wife had created a Will leaving the money in a bank account to her husband. The Will provided that any money in the account at the time of her husband's death, “shall be held by my niece, Catherine King Fox." Husband died without a Will, approximately six weeks after his wife. Upon his wife’s death, husband became the lawful owner of the bank account. Because he died without a Will, under New Jersey law his “lawful heirs" received the proceeds of the wife’s bank account.

Despite the obvious intent of the wife’s Will, six members of the Supreme Court rejected her niece’s claim. Their decision relied upon “ the long established law of this State" that upon wife’s death, her husband “took an absolute ownership, an estate in fee, of the bank account. "The majority concluded that the judiciary was powerless to grant the relief sought; it required Legislative action. Vanderbilt disagreed. According to him, his colleagues viewed the common law as “a self-imposed straitjacket. Such a theory, if followed consistently, would inevitably lead to the ultimate codification of all of our law for sheer lack of capacity in the courts to adapt the law to the needs of the living present."

Fox v. Snow best illustrates Vanderbilt’s belief that courts must adapt to changes in society and cannot be bound by antiquated legal standards. As he saw things, “We should not permit the dead hand of the past to weigh so heavily upon the law that it perpetuates rules of law without reason. Unless rules of law are created, revised, or rejected as conditions change and as past errors become apparent, the common law will soon become antiquated and ineffective in an age of rapid economic and social change.” In short, "Law must be stable, and yet it cannot stand still."

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A Trail Blazer Comes to the End

Over the next several years, Vanderbilt wrote more than 200 opinions which played a major role in shaping New Jersey’s new court system.  A common thread runs through these decisions, namely, seeking to make the courts responsive to the needs of society. The guiding principle by which New Jersey’s first Chief Justice operated was to make the substantive law of New Jersey suitable to the contemporary conditions by pushing aside procedural or technical intricacies and discarding legal doctrines, no matter how ancient or revered, that were no longer compatible with the economic and social realities of the day.

With little more than one year remaining until his mandatory retirement at age seventy, Vanderbilt’s seven-day-per-week schedule of reading legal briefs, writing opinions, and overseeing the administration of the courts had damaged his health. He wasn’t good at delegating tasks to others. Worse still, his personality didn’t allow him to turn down invitations to speak at law school symposiums, judicial conferences, and bar association meetings, most requiring extensive travel.  During his years as Chief Justice, he published eight books and innumerable articles advancing his ideas on law reform, and met regularly with delegations from other states and nations intent on modernizing their court systems and constitutions.  On June 16, 1957, the tank of endless energy that seemed never to empty finally had. His legacy is enormous. Among the nation’s many state Supreme Court Justices over the past two centuries, Chief Justice Arthur T. Vanderbilt of New Jersey stands alone. He consciously set about to alter the status quo by charting a new course for America’s courts, and had remarkable success.

For his work, he had received 32 honorary degrees, the American Bar Association Gold Medal, and many other awards.  As Harvard Law School Dean, Roscoe Pound summarized his career:  “The great work of Chief Justice Vanderbilt and his enduring title to fame was in judicial administration, organization of courts, and remaking American legal procedure to the needs of the crowded and hyper-mechanized world and complex social order of today.  His work for law reform, organization of courts, organization of the administrative work of the courts and for legal education make a consistent whole and mark him as entitled to a high place among those who have raised our institutions of justice to their highest possibilities.”

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Chief Justice Arthur T. Vanderbilt Chief Justice Arthur T. Vanderbilt Chief Justice Arthur T. Vanderbilt being sworn in Chief Justice Arthur T. Vanderbilt giving a speech Chief Jystice Arthur T. Vanderbilt Supreme Court 1955 Supreme Court 1948