Today is the anniversary of New Jersey Ass’n for Retarded Citizens v. New Jersey Dep’t of Human Services, 89 N.J. 234 (1982). That case was an action on behalf of retarded citizens for declaratory relief. Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice Pashman summarized the result as “grant[ing] mentally retarded children in State facilities the legal right to a thorough and efficient education suited to their individual needs and abilities …. conclud[ing] that all mentally retarded adults in those facilities have the legal right to adequate training, habilitation, education, care and protection in accordance with their individual needs …. [and] hold[ing] that all mentally retarded citizens have the right to these services in the setting which is least restrictive of their personal liberty.”
The final paragraph of the opinion contains what I believe is the most majestic and stirring language ever to appear in a Supreme Court of New Jersey opinion:
Like all other citizens, the mentally retarded have the right to pursue happiness. Unlike other citizens, they have unique hurdles to overcome in doing so. Rather than exclude them from the pursuit of happiness, the Legislature has made an effort to include them in our civic community by providing them the special services they need to develop and grow. This public policy affirms our common humanity. Their concerns are our concerns. In this State, we do not set people adrift because they are the victims of misfortune. We take care of each other.
Especially at this time, when certain segments of the American public have elevated selfishness over “our common humanity,” and have become callous toward those who are unlike or less fortunate than themselves, Justice Pashman’s eloquent words should be with us every day, not just today, on the anniversary of this opinion. We should always be able to say that, in New Jersey,”[w]e take care of each other.” That is one of the indicators of civilized society.
Anyone who has other candidates for “best paragraph ever” should feel free to comment and share their thoughts.