Today is inauguration day for Donald Trump. He and his designee to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson, might take a lesson from a decision issued on this date in 1983 by a unanimous Supreme Court of New Jersey. That opinion is Southern Burlington Cty. NAACP v. Mount Laurel Tp., 92 N.J. 158 (1983), otherwise known as Mount Laurel II (Mount Laurel I having been decided in 1976, as discussed here).
Among other things, the opinion in Mount Laurel II, written by Chief Justice Wilentz, authorized a builder’s remedy to help achieve actual construction of low and moderate-income housing. The goal was to “put some steel” into the Mount Laurel doctrine, which had not produced housing as quickly or as extensively as desired up to that point.
Mount Laurel II is one of the seminal opinions of the Supreme Court, and it reflects a passion not often seen in judicial decisions. It was also, as noted, an opinion that garnered the votes of every Justice, from the most conservative to the most liberal, Democrats and Republicans. Every New Jersey citizen should read it.
As a result of that opinion, significant amounts of low and moderate-income housing have been constructed. But more remains to be done, and as recently as this week, the Supreme Court found it necessary to decide yet another Mount Laurel case, in order to clarify how to account for a “gap period” of many years during which no valid “third round regulations” regarding municipalities’ fair shares of low and moderate-income housing were promulgated. Nonetheless, the Mount Laurel paradigm remains a good way for the incoming administration to make good on its promises regarding improving infrastructure and, to the extent that minorities such as African-Americans are poor and living in bad conditions, as the President-elect has stated, to improve the lot of those citizens.