Rutgers Law Journal’s State Constitutional Law Issue Turns 25

25th issue callout image

Some constitutions aren’t even 25 years old.  The Rutgers Law Journal has been publishing an issue dedicated to state constitutional law since 1989 and its 25th issue is now in print.

As the journal’s state constitutional law advisor, Rutgers Law–Camden Distinguished Professor Robert Williams has been reading, analyzing, and advising the journal on publishing innovative articles on state constitutional law by the world’s top researchers for more than a quarter of a century.

According to Williams, New Jersey is widely lauded for its concise constitution and efficient Supreme Court, but the law journal issue’s scope includes scholarship on the nation’s other state constitutions as well as other federalism-structured countries. Williams calls these entities “comparative subnational constitutions,” a term he coined with Rutgers–Camden Board of Governors Professor of Political Science Alan Tarr to describe the approximately 15 other countries comprised of smaller subsidiaries that might be called something other than states.

Tarr directs the Center for State Constitutional Studies, where Williams serves as associate director. Formed in 1997, the center cosponsors the annual state constitutional lecture, published as the foreword to the Rutgers Law Journal’s annual issue.

For a state constitution law scholar, the United States is the place to study. In fact, no other country has 51 constitutions or as Williams says, “lots of opportunities for research and scholarship.”

Think knowledge of state constitutions is just for the legal community? “There’s more in state constitutions that affects daily life as compared to the U.S. Constitution, like public schools, state taxation, and state budget, which fuels state government and that affects everybody every day,” notes Williams, who launched the theme issue after teaching at Rutgers Law–Camden for eight years.

“Then-Dean John Pittenger asked Professor Earl Maltz to come up with an idea for the Law Journal and Earl proposed state constitution law as a new field of study. At the time I wondered whether an issue dedicated to state constitution law would really work, but I agreed to implement this idea and 25 years later we all know that it’s been a spectacular success,” says Williams, who teaches civil procedure and state constitutional law and legislation at Rutgers Law–Camden.  “People around the country, and around the world, know ours is the-go-to issue for state con law.”

The breadth of the topics addressed in the annual issue is evidenced in this current issue’s publishing of all the tables of contents in those 25 years, some 27 pages that showcase the progression of scholarship on state con law.

Not only have the readers of the issue benefited from this comprehensive body of knowledge by top scholars writing on subjects from an analysis of the first American state constitutions to the current state constitutional litigation and developments concerning same-sex marriage, so have generations of Rutgers Law–Camden students.

According to Williams, the various editors and staff of the Rutgers Law Journal should be commended for their prodigious efforts in the volume of legal research, organization, and analysis involved over the years.   “[M]ore than a generation of Rutgers Law Journal members have read and analyzed virtually every state constitutional law decision by state high courts in the United States,” writes Williams with Tarr in the anniversary edition’s introduction.

Alexandra Jacobs ‘14, the journal’s editor in chief at the time of publication, is exceptionally proud of the issue. “[It] marks a tremendous legacy of state constitutional law scholarship… under the direction of Distinguished Professor Robert F. Williams, each year’s staff analyzes the most significant state constitutional law decisions of the past year and produces a national survey of judicial interpretations of state constitutions.”

Rutgers Law—Camden students like Jacobs have been key voices in this dialogue which has included not only the highly respected insight of their faculty advisor Williams, but the scholarship submitted by authors around the world, including one of the nation’s foremost civil liberties lawyers Burt Neuborne, his former student Helen Hershkoff, now also a professor at NYU, and even brothers Akhil Amar, a Yale law professor, and Vikram Amar, a UC Davis law professor. The issue has also featured book reviews on the many important tomes on the subject as well as the critical works of state high court justices offering their own views of state constitutional interpretation.

For Rutgers–Camden third-year law student RJ Norcia, current editor in chief of the Rutgers Law Journal, this issue signifies a tremendous achievement and signals the beginning and end of an era.

“Last year, the law school administrations on both the Camden and Newark campuses asked the flagship journals on each campus—the Rutgers Law Journal and the Rutgers Law Review—to merge, ahead of the law school-wide merger set to take place next year, and form one preeminent publication with staffs on both campuses,” says Norcia.

“It is only fitting that the Rutgers Law Journal’s monumental 25th anniversary issue on state constitutional law will also be the last-ever issue published under the name of the Rutgers Law Journal. Beginning in the summer of 2015, the state constitutional law issue will be published under the new name of the Rutgers University Law Review. With a new name, the tireless support of our faculty advisers – Professor Williams and Dean Andrews on the Camden Campus and Dean Chen on the Newark Campus – and the efforts of the staffs on both campuses, the Rutgers University Law Review is poised to become even more of a leader in the study of state constitutional law.”

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