|Chief Justice Poritz|
New Brunswick, N.J. -- The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey will award its highest honor to Chief Justice Deborah Poritz tonight at its annual U.S. Supreme Court Briefing.
"Chief Justice Poritz has demonstrated a commitment to equality through her opinions on abortion rights and same sex marriage," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. "Although the ACLU has not always agreed with her positions, we recognize her thoughtful approach to constitutional rights."
Named after the founder of the ACLU, the Roger N. Baldwin award recognizes outstanding contributions to the preservation and promotion of civil liberties. In years past it has been awarded to national luminaries such as Justice William Brennan, Gloria Steinem and Cornel West, and New Jersey legal achievers such as Frank Askin, Ronald Chen and Larry Lustberg.
Poritz, nominated by former Governor Christine Todd Whitman, served as Attorney General of New Jersey from 1994 to 1996. Whitman appointed her Chief Justice for the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1996, a position she held until retirement in 2006. Poritz was the first woman to serve in both positions.
"I am honored to receive the Roger Baldwin Award from an organization I respect and admire." Said Poritz. "By raising issues that involve fundamental constitutional rights, the ACLU performs a critical function in our legal system."
In Planned Parenthood v. Farmer, brought by the ACLU, Poritz held that the Parental Notification for Abortion Act was an unconstitutional violation of equal protection because the state did not provide adequate justification for distinguishing between minors seeking an abortion and minors seeking other pregnancy related medical care.
In Lewis v. Harris, Poritz dissented from the majority of justices who ruled that the state could preclude same-sex couples from marriage so long as the state provides a parallel structure of rights. Poritz wrote: "We must not underestimate the power of language. Labels set people apart as surely as physical separation on a bus or in school facilities. Labels are used to perpetuate prejudice about differences that, in this case, are embedded in the law. By excluding same-sex couples from civil marriage, the State declares that it is legitimate to differentiate between their commitments and the commitments of heterosexual couples. Ultimately, the message is that what same-sex couples have is not as important or as significant as 'real' marriage, that such lesser relationships cannot have the name of marriage."
In addition to the presentation of the award to Poritz, the event will feature Steven Shapiro, Legal Director for the National ACLU, who will highlight critical civil liberties issues before the U.S. Supreme Court this term. The ACLU appears before the U.S. Supreme Court more than any other individual or organization aside from the U.S. government itself. With such a relationship, the ACLU has a unique perspective on the inner workings and the broad implications of the Court's actions.
Following Shapiro's presentation, both he and Poritz will field questions on the courts.