Retired Justice Marie Garibaldi died last Friday at age 81. A 1959 graduate of Columbia University Law School (her class included just twelve women, one of whom was Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now a Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States), she was a woman of “firsts,” most notably as the first female president of the New Jersey State Bar Association, a post to which she was elected in 1982, and the first woman Justice on the Supreme Court of New Jersey, where she sat from 1982-2000.
A native New Jerseyan from Hudson County, Justice Garibaldi did her undergraduate work at Connecticut College, where she majored in economics. After law school, Justice Garibaldi was prosecutor for the Internal Revenue Service, handling civil tax fraud cases. After a short stint at McCarter & English, she then joined the Riker Danzig law firm, where she practiced tax law. After just three years there, she was named a partner of the firm, becoming one of the first, if not the first, woman to become a partner at a major New Jersey law firm. From 1973-75, she served as a judge of the Weehawken Municipal Court. She was a co-chair of Governor Kean’s 1981 gubernatorial campaign. Governor Kean then appointed her to the Supreme Court to fill the seat that had been held by Justice Pashman prior to his retirement in 1982.
During her eighteen years on the Supreme Court, Justice Garibaldi authored over 225 opinions. That she had been a tax practitioner did not limit the breadth or depth of her opinions, and she wrote important opinions in areas ranging from the right to die, to sexual harassment, to freedom of the press, to the right of women to join eating clubs at Princeton University. Her views on some legal issues were more conservative than those of some other Justices with whom she served, and Justice Garibaldi therefore wrote memorable dissents as well. Among those were cases involving “social host liability” for injuries caused by guests who drove after drinking alcohol served by the host, and the question of whether shopping malls are a public forum at which leafleting was required to be allowed.
Justice Garibaldi was always proud of the legal profession. She regularly delivered speeches that cited the contributions of attorneys in various different ways, going back as far as John Adams. She punctuated each example that she cited with the conclusion “And he [it was generally “he,” until more recent times] was a lawyer.” At a time when the legal profession was often held in unwarranted disrepute due to the actions of a few, Justice Garibaldi spoke out strongly for the noble things that members of the profession have done.
Barely one year after the death of Justice Clifford, whose tenure overlapped that of Justice Garibaldi for twelve years, Justice Garibaldi has left this earth. She will be missed, but her contributions to the law will live on.