CAMDEN — As debates continue to surround hot-button issues like same-sex marriage, judges’ pensions, and sports betting in New Jersey, the state’s constitution increasingly is thrust into the spotlight.
A new book by a noted Rutgers–Camden constitutional scholar helps provide a historical account of the intricate, ever-changing governing document that is sparking public interest even as it defines everyday life in the Garden State.
Robert Williams brings the New Jersey constitution up to date in his book, The New Jersey State Constitution, Second Edition (Oxford University Press, 2012), a follow-up to his original 1990 book and revised 1997 edition.
“There is a very wide range of activity that goes on in New Jersey that is directly influenced by what’s in the constitution, including questions about education, local government, the court system, environmental law, and taxation,” says Williams, a distinguished professor of law at Rutgers–Camden. “There’s an interesting interaction between the text of the constitution, the authoritative interpretation of the constitution by the courts, and the voice of the people.”
Williams points to the creation of the position of lieutenant governor, the ability to recall state officials, and the adoption of new forms of gambling laws as some of the significant changes to the New Jersey constitution within the past 20 years.
Additionally, contributions to pensions and healthcare benefits for judges, legalized sports and internet betting, and same-sex marriage have brought attention to the New Jersey constitution.
“Within the past 30 years, as cases were lost at the federal level, lawyers, judges, and interest groups have rediscovered state constitutions,” Williams says. “Cases won state-by-state are much smaller victories, but they’re victories nonetheless.”
State constitutions perform different functions and contain different provisions from the more familiar U.S. Constitution.
Williams says state constitutions vastly differ from the federal constitution because they include a wide variety of policy provisions and are more volatile. New Jersey’s constitution, for example, averages about one amendment per year, whereas the U.S. Constitution has 26 total amendments, he notes.
“Our little-known state constitution is more democratic than our better-known federal constitution,” Williams says. “State courts are often more protective of their citizens than the U.S. Supreme Court. Interestingly, New Jersey has been a leader in this shift of these cases from the federal courts to the state courts, which is the reason why people are more interested in state constitutions.”
The New Jersey State Constitution, Second Edition is one in a series of books that reflects a renewed international interest in constitutional history and provides expert insight into each of the 50 state constitutions.
The series, The Oxford Commentaries on the State Constitutions of the United States is edited by Rutgers–Camden political science professor G. Alan Tarr, who directs the Rutgers–Camden Center for State Constitutional Studies.
“The book is intended to be a working reference book about the constitution, one that we hope lawyers, judges, politicians, and even citizens will pick up over and over again,” Williams says.
Williams teaches state constitutional law at the Rutgers School of Law–Camden. He is the widely cited author of dozens of articles and numerous books on state constitutional law, including The Law of American State Constitutions (Oxford University Press, 2009).
A resident of Haddonfield, Williams received his bachelor’s degree from Florida State University in 1967; his juris doctor from the University of Florida in 1969; and his master of laws degrees from New York University in 1971 and Columbia University in 1980.
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Media Contact: Ed Moorhouse