Retired New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Alan Handler dead at age 92

 May 25, 2024

A once prominent member of New Jersey's Supreme Court, retired Associate Justice Alan Handler, passed away on Thursday at the age of 92, according to

Handler served on the state's highest court from 1977-1999 and reportedly authored approximately 500 opinions during his 22-year tenure on the bench. He was preceded in death by his wife, Rose, and his two brothers, Joel and Mark. He is survived by his three daughters -- N. Nikki, Carolyn, and Julia -- as well as his two step-children, Kara and Sean, and six nieces and nephews.

A lawyer and judge

Born in Newark, New Jersey, Handler graduated near the top of his class at Princeton University in 1953 and obtained a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1956.

He entered government service in 1961 as a deputy attorney general and was elevated to the role of first assistant attorney general in 1964, after which he was appointed to serve as a New Jersey Superior Court judge in 1968, then moved up to serve on the state's appellate court in 1973.

In 1976, Handler resigned his judgeship to take on the role of special counsel for then-Gov. Brendan Byrne, though that was shortlived as Byrne subsequently appointed Handler to serve on the state's Supreme Court in 1977.

A "liberal lion" unafraid to author controversial decisions

The New Jersey Globe reported that retired Justice Handler was known as a "liberal lion" of the state's highest court who authored many consequential opinions during his time on the bench.

Some of his most important decisions as a judge and justice included upholding a controversial school funding program, allowing girls to play Little League baseball, promoting free speech on college campuses, curbing workplace discrimination, and protecting the interests of a child in cases where their parents suffered from addictions or mental illnesses, among other things.

Handler was also a staunch opponent of the death penalty, upheld the right of governors to use a line-item veto, struck down an old fornication law that prohibited sex between unmarried couples, and per, was the first judge in the nation to recognize the rights of transsexual individuals to marry, divorce, and claim spousal support.

Following his retirement from the Supreme Court in 1999, he joined the prominent law firm of Wilentz, Goldman and Spitzer, where he worked until his second retirement in 2016. noted that he spent much of his final years on his sheep farm where he enjoyed interacting with his animals, reading books, listening to baseball games, building stone walls, and creating sculptures.

Condolences and remembrances

The New Jersey Law Journal reported that current Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said in a statement, "The Judiciary today mourns the loss of Associate Justice Alan B. Handler. Justice Handler is a legendary figure in the history of the New Jersey Supreme Court, where he served from 1977 to 1999."

"His scholarly opinions on the common law, education, free speech, search and seizure, ethics, the role of state constitutional law as an independent source for protecting individual rights, among other subjects, remain an important influence on the Court’s jurisprudence and will continue to live on," Rabner added. "Justice Handler was also a warm friend and source of wise counsel to many. We extend our deepest condolences to his family at this challenging time."

Following his retirement from the high court, reported that Handler's now-deceased former colleague Justice Daniel Hern said of his friend, "Every great court needs a cleanup hitter, someone strong, someone certain, someone upon whom others can safely rely to come through at crucial moments. That was Justice Handler’s role on the New Jersey Supreme Court."

The Wilentz, Goldman, and Spitzer law firm said in a statement, "We are deeply saddened by the passing of Retired New Jersey Supreme Court Associate Justice Alan B. Handler, our esteemed former colleague and friend of more than 25 years," and added, "Justice Handler was a cherished friend to all and our trusted colleague. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family and loved ones."

Handler was also mourned by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who posted a statement to social media and said of he and his wife, "Tammy and I are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Alan Handler. Justice Handler was essential in transforming New Jersey's judiciary into the envy of the nation. We extend our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones."

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