Gov. Alfred Driscoll picked the first seven members of the New Jersey Supreme Court in late 1947, months after voters approved a new State Constitution that completely revamped an antiquated and obsolete judiciary.
Since then, every governor but Richard Hughes, Jim Florio, Donald DiFrancesco and Richard Codey. have had an opportunity to nominate justices to New Jersey’s top court – some have been more impactful than others.
The 1947 Constitution unseated the nine members of the Supreme Court. Driscoll retained five and named two new Justices.
The dumped justices: Frederic Colie (R-Short Hills), 53, a who had been named to the court in 1941 when Justice Thomas Trenchard retired after nearly 36 years; Ralph Donges (D-Camden), 73, an close ally and advisor to Woodrow Wilson as governor and president, a judge since 1920 and a justice since 1930; Howard Eastwood (R-Burlington City), 64, a former Senate President; and Joseph Perskie (D-Atlantic City), 63, the grandfather of future State Sen. Steven Perskie and a justice since 1933.
Donges and Colie accepted appointments to the newly-formed Superior Court. So did Nathan Jacobs (R-Livingston), 45, who had served for just a few months on the Supreme Court between the time the new Constitution was approved and the seating of the new court.
Arthur Vanderbilt, 60, a former American Bar Association President and Dean of New York University Law School, had led a reform movement in Essex County Republican politics and was the architect of the judiciary component of the 1947 Constitutional Convention. Driscoll named him as the state’s first Chief Justice.
The first six associate justices had heavy political resumes:
* Henry Ackerson, Jr. (D-Keyport) served as Democratic State Senator from Monmouth County, as counsel to the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders, and as municipal attorney to several towns in Monmouth and Middlesex Counties. He spent 24 years as a circuit court judge and five years on the Court of Errors and Appeals.
*Albert Burling (R-Pennsauken), 57, had been a Republican State Senator from Camden County before becoming a circuit court judge in 1942 and a Supreme Court Justice in 1947.
* Clarence Case (R-Somerville), 71, spent eleven years as a Republican State Senator from Somerset County and was Senate President in 1920. He spent one week as acting governor in 1920 and had been the Chief Justice of the old Supreme Court before New Jersey’s new State Constitution was approved. Case’s nephew, Clifford P. Case, served in the U.S. Senate for 24 years.
* Harry Heher, 59, had served as Mercer County Democratic Chairman from 1915 to 1922 and as Democratic State Chairman from 1922 to 1932 and became an associate justice of the top court in 1933.
* A. Dayton Oliphant (R-Princeton), 61, was a Republican assemblyman and the Mercer County Prosecutor before becoming being named to the circuit court in 1927 and to the Supreme Court in 1946.
* William Wachenfeld, 59, a former Essex County Democratic Chairman, won fame when he prosecuted mobster Dutch Schultz on murder charges. He spent 11 years as the Essex County Prosecutor but lost two State Senate bids. He had been named to the Supreme Court in 1946.
Driscoll got to make two more top court nominations before he left office after the 1953 election: Ackerson and Case resigned in 1952 and were replaced by Jacobs and William Jr. Brennan, Jr.
Brennan, 45, had some political lineage: his father, an Irish immigrant, had served as a Newark Commissioner from 1927 to 1930 and ran the Public Safety Department. Driscoll named him to the Superior Court in 1949. He spent a little more than four years on the state bench before President Dwight Eisenhower nominated him to serve as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 196. Brennan spent almost 34 years in that post.
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