By Rachel Stengel and Katie Zeck
Justice John E. Wallace Jr., former associate justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, discussed New Jersey’s mark on the history of the United States Supreme Court at an award ceremony held on Thursday, Oct. 28.
Wallace was invited to Rider to receive the 2010 Rider University Law and Justice Program’s Distinguished Contribution Award. He discussed the presence of Supreme Court Justices from the state of New Jersey: William J. Brennan Jr., Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito Jr., as well as his own career as a New Jersey Supreme Court Justice. Wallace said he was thrilled to receive such a distinguished award.
“Thank you for this award; it’s a very special one to me. It’s a pleasure to stand here before you,” he said. “Your comments today were very gracious and I thank you so much for them. It’s truly an honor for me.”
Born in Pitman, N.J., Wallace earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware in 1964. He completed his law degree at the prestigious Harvard Law School in 1967. Following law school, he enlisted in the United States Army for two years where he reached the rank of captain.
Wallace described the history of Supreme Court Justices after receiving his award.
“It is surprising, however, that if you look at the United States Constitution that there are no particular requirements for judges as far as educational background,” he said. “Moreover, unlike the Executive and Legislative branches, there are no age requirements for judges. Nevertheless, it is not surprising that to date every person who has been appointed to the United States Supreme Court has been an attorney.”
The discussion concentrated on Supreme Court Justices Brennan, from Newark, Scalia, from Trenton, and Alito, also of Trenton.
Brennan served under Eisenhower’s administration. He was a modest man, a self-proclaimed “mule in the Kentucky Derby.”
“He did not intend to distinguish himself but benefit himself by his associations,” Wallace explained.
Antonin Scalia Jr. had a “growing reputation as one of the most intellectually gifted and conservative judges” leading up to his nomination to the Supreme Court in 1986.
“Scalia emerged as the leader of the court’s originalist faction which generally holds that meaning of the Constitution is limited to the literal words inscribed by its Framers,” Wallace said.
Alito replaced Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court bench.
“He earned a reputation as a young, less abrasive version of Justice Scalia, an identity his opponents have tried to perpetuate by imposing the name of ‘Scalito,’” stated Wallace.
Wallace’s impressive résumé aided his New Jersey Supreme Court nomination. He formed a partnership in the Atkinson, Myers, Archie & Wallace law firm and served as the municipal judge for Washington Township in Gloucester County. He was also an associate at the Philadelphia law firm of Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhodes, and acted as an attorney for the Trustees of the Penn Central Transportation Co. He is a member of numerous bar associations including the Gloucester and Camden County Bar Associations, the American Bar Association, the National Bar Association, the New Jersey State Bar Association and the Garden State Bar Association.
Wallace served on many committees and special task forces throughout his career, including the New Jersey Ethics Commission and the Appellate Division Rules Committee. He was also the Chairman of the Supreme Court Ad Hoc Committee on Admissions.
Wallace was appointed to the New Jersey Superior Court in 1984. He was subsequently appointed to the Appellate Division in 1992. On April 12, 2003, Wallace was nominated by Gov. James E. McGreevey to serve a seven-year term on the New Jersey Supreme Court. He became the second African American man to achieve such a distinct honor.
The 2010 Rider University Law and Justice Program’s Distinguished Contribution Award joins the long list of accolades obtained by Wallace. Such honors include the Orient of New Jersey Dedicated Service Award from the Valley of Camden, the Washington Township Board of Education Appreciation Award and the Van J. Clinton award from the Garden State Bar Association.
Wallace’s career on the New Jersey Supreme Court came to an end with the election of Gov. Chris Christie. The Republican governor chose not to renominate the Democratic Wallace whose seven-year term was nearly expired. The decision was wracked with controversy; Wallace was the first justice to be denied tenure.