Justice Marie Garibaldi, the first woman appointed to the New Jersey Supreme Court, passed away on January 15 at age 81. Legal Momentum salutes this trailblazer for women’s equality.
A true pioneer of the legal profession, Garibaldi forged a career path that was not welcoming to women. After she graduated from Connecticut College in 1956, she was unable to attend business school because, at the time, not one of them accepted women. Instead, she enrolled in Columbia Law School. The 12 women students in her class of more than 250, coincidentally, also included future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A prominent New York law firm where Garibaldi worked after she got her LLM from New York University would not make her a partner because she was a woman. Undaunted, she joined a top New Jersey law firm, now known as Riker, Danzig, Scherer, Hyland & Perretti, where she quickly became a partner. She was one of the first women partners at a New Jersey firm. While at Riker, Danzig in the early 1970s, Justice Garibaldi also served as a municipal court judge in Weehawken. Justice Garibaldi was the first woman to head the New Jersey State Bar Association, in 1982. She also served as co-chair of Thomas Kean’s gubernatorial campaign.
When she was appointed to serve as the first woman on the NJ Supreme Court by Governor Kean in 1982, she made clear that she would apply a gender justice lens to her legal analysis. “When you come to the court you bring your life experiences, and I think a woman has different life experiences than some men would have. I expect I may bring a particular point of view, and it will be affected by the fact I’m a woman, but my reasons will be grounded in the law.” When Garibaldi first arrived for work at the Supreme Court, the courthouse used by the Supreme Court in Trenton did not even have a women’s restroom!
Justice Garibaldi served on a court that earned a national reputation progressive and innovative for pioneering rulings in the 1970s and '80s. While on the court, she wrote more than 225 opinions, including several important dissents and landmark legal decisions. One of Justice Garibaldi’s opinions held that the exclusion of women from Princeton University’s private undergraduate eating clubs was discriminatory. Another defined the conduct that constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace. Her opinions also upheld the rights of women, the disabled, the news media, and other groups.
Legal Momentum salutes the life and work of Justice Garibaldi, who was was a role model for many women and men who wanted to pursue a legal career. She will be sorely missed by the entire Legal Momentum community.