Kevin Walsh, CLAW ’99, was inclined to “challenge the status quo,” as he puts it, even before he reached law school.
But his experience at Rutgers–Camden helped this advocate, named Lawyer of the Year in December 2012 by the New Jersey Law Journal, find the tools – and foster the interest – to help New Jersey’s disadvantaged improve their lives.
“If I were independently wealthy, I would still do this work because I enjoy it so much,” he says. “Working with good people around a common goal to improve the world is tremendously enjoyable.”
As associate director of the Fair Share Housing Center, New Jersey’s leading advocacy group for affordable housing, Walsh was celebrated by the law journal in December “for his successes as a fair-housing advocate, and for his efforts to craft legislation that would further the Mount Laurel vision or to oppose measures that would undermine it.”
Walsh credits his Rutgers Law professors, especially Distinguished Professor Robert F. Williams, for exposing him to not only the importance of constitutional law, but “good scrappy advocacy” and “representing the public good through innovative legislation.” And as research assistant to then-Professor Jack Sabatino (now Judge of the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey), Walsh was exposed to “opportunities for novel litigation” and more broadly, the legal landscape of New Jersey.
“He was someone who made New Jersey seem interesting,” Walsh says.After a clerkship in the New Jersey Supreme Court, Walsh joined the Fair Share Housing Center in 2000. The group sees itself as the guardian of the Mount Laurel doctrine (established by a series of decisions from the state court starting in 1975), which the New York Times described in a recent editorial as “rightly regarded as one of the most important civil rights decisions of modern times.”
In its groundbreaking 1983 decision of South Burlington County NAACP v. Mount Laurel (also known as Mount Laurel II), the New Jersey Supreme Court held that each municipality in a growth area has a constitutional responsibility to provide, through planning and zoning, housing for low and moderate income families.Since joining the Fair Share Housing Center, Walsh has worked through the courts, the legislature and the executive branch to not only grow, but also protect, affordable housing opportunities in New Jersey.
The result has been an increase in the number of homes in the suburbs planned and developed for lower income families.But his work has not been limited to affordable housing. As legal counsel to New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Walsh sued to block lethal injections in New Jersey and in 2007, helped secure legislation that abolished executions in the state.
Guiding Walsh is a sense of social equity rooted in the strong Catholic faith of his upbringing and a joy in doing a job that he loves.
In the course of his work on both affordable housing and the death penalty, Walsh says he has been pleasantly surprised to learn that, in his view, people are more likely to support these issues – thanks to advocacy and education – than oppose them. “With the death penalty, we were educating people and were able to bring around those who were initially against abolishing it. And with housing, the initial reaction might be negative for a lot of people, but then they think about the people in their lives who can benefit from … [this kind of opportunity] and that it is more necessary than they realize.”
Walsh’s latest work involves scrutinizing the state governments’ use of funds as New Jersey recovers from Superstorm Sandy. “We want to make sure that lower income folks are not forgotten as the state rebuilds.”
Media Contact: Cathy K. Donovan