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New Jersey Gov. Robert B. Meyner. Photo courtesy of Lafayette College Special Collections & College Archives

N.J. Supreme Court: The Meyner Court

By David Wildstein, June 07 2020 10:00 pm

Gov. Robert Meyner had an opportunity to affect a complete makeover of the New Jersey Supreme Court during his two terms as governor, nominating seven justices between 1954 and 1962 on a court that had been established just six years before.

Meyner’s first pick came in 1956 when he nominated Joseph Weintraub (D-Orange) to replace William J. Brennan, who left the state Supreme Court after President Dwight Eisenhower nominated him to serve as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Weintraub. 48, had been Meyner’s appointee to the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor when he took office in 1954 and became a Superior Court Judge in 1955.

Ten months later, when Arthur Vanderbilt died in office, Meyner elevated Weintraub to Chief Justice, a post he held for sixteen years.

To maintain the traditional bi-partisan balance of the New Jersey Supreme Court, Meyner nominated former Senate President Hayden Proctor (R-Neptune) to fill Weintraub’s seat as an Associate Justice.  The 54-year-old Proctor had been an assemblyman, circuit court judge, delegate to the 1947 Constitutional Convention, and had been named to the Superior Court by Driscoll in 1948.

Meyner nominated John Francis (D-South Orange) to the top court in 1957 following the retirement of Dayton Oliphant.  This became the first time a majority of the top court were Democrats.

Francis, 54, was the Democratic nominee for Congress in 1944, losing 52%-46% to U.S. Rep. Frank Sundstrom (R-East Orange).  Francis, 54, had lost a race for State Assembly in 1940 – one of his running mates was future House Judiciary Committee Chairman Peter Rodino — and served as a South Orange Village Trustee from 1942 to 1946.  Driscoll nominated him to serve as an Essex County Court Judge in 1952.

Following the retirements of Harry Heher and William Wachenfeld in 1959 – Wachenfeld had considered leaving the court to run for governor in 1949 and 1953 — Meyner nominated two new Democrats to the Supreme Court: C. Thomas Schettino, 52, who had served as a top aide to Governor Charles Edison; and Bound Brook attorney Frederick Hall, 51, who had been Vanderbilt’s law partner.  Both had served as Superior Court judges.

Albert Burling retired in 1950 and Meyner named Vincent Haneman, a 58-year-old former Republican assemblyman and Brigantine mayor who was a political ally of State Sen. Frank “Hap” Farley, the Atlantic County political boss.

By the time Meyner left office, six of the seven justices – all but Nathan Jacobs – had been named by him.

Most of Meyner’s top court nominees were relatively young.  Because of that, Gov. Richard Hughes made no appointments to the Supreme Court during his eight-year stint following Meyner.

Next: The Cahill Court

 

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