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"Arthur T. Vanderbilt ranks with Roscoe Pound, David Dudley Field, Elihu Root and a very few others as one of the all-time immortals of the legal and judicial world. Every American lawyer and judge should know about him."
Judicature: The Journal of the American Judicature Society

This is the first biography of my grandfather Arthur T. Vanderbilt, for whom I am named. A trial and appellate lawyer, professor, political leader, law reformer, and jurist, he was one of the twentieth century’s most versatile and productive contributors to American jurisprudence.


My grandfather was among the first to recognize that archaic courts, obsolete procedures, and outmoded laws were delaying and denying justice in many jurisdictions. The methods he developed for changing the law and improving the administration of justice have become the basis of later efforts to make the law more responsive to contemporary needs.


His conception of the responsibility of the lawyer extended far beyond the traditional role of counsellor and advocate. In 1918 at the age of thirty, he organized an insurgent political reform movement that brought an era of “clean government” to New Jersey. 

A leader of the American Bar Association (its president in 1937–38), he alerted the legal profession to the growing crisis in the courts and served on executive and Congressional advisory committees to draft legislation improving the federal judicial system.


As dean of the New York University School of Law, he built it into a leading legal institution by developing around it the nation’s first law center.


Against the whirlwinds of New Jersey politics, the strident opposition of Mayor Frank Hague, and the rigid conservatism of the state’s bench and bar, my grandfather fought for seventeen years to recognize and modernize the colonial courts of New Jersey through the passage of a new state constitution.


And as Chief Justice of New Jersey, he molded the state courts into the first modern judicial system in the United States.


A man of action, my grandfather’s life was filled with conflict and controversy. This book describes the turbulent New Jersey political scene between 1906 and 1957 while providing a detailed study of methods of legal change.


It presents the career of a man who recognized that changing the law was “no sport for the short-winded or for lawyers who are afraid of temporary defeat,” and yet who was certain that “individual men have the capacity to stake out the course of the future rather than merely to observe social forces, powerless to change them.”

1977 Scribes Book Award from The American Society of Legal Writers for the best work of legal scholarship published during the previous year

Lute Pease’s cartoon of September 14, 1948, on the inauguration of the new judicial system (courtesy of The Newark Evening News)


Arthur T. Vanderbilt Hall: the Law Center at New York University (courtesy of New York University Law Review)


Outside Vanderbilt Hall at its dedication on September 15, 1951, are Dean Roscoe Pound of Harvard Law School, Governor Alfred E. Driscoll of New Jersey, and Chief Justice Arthur T. Vanderbilt (courtesy of New York University Law Center Bulletin)



"A Morning in Connecticut: 1909”

“The Germinal Years: 1910–1920”

“Clean Government: 1920–1938”

“Jersey Justice: 1930–1939”

“The Crowded Years: 1938–1948”

“The Chief Justice: 1948–1957”


Arthur T. Vanderbilt was a robust, hardy, vigorous man who was not just a scholar, or just a teacher or just a reformer; he was a man with a twinkle in his eye—a man with two tough fists and a sharp tongue who could go in and fight harder and better than anybody else around him when it was necessary for a client or for a cause. He was a man who selected his causes with wisdom and then gave them a degree of vigor and imagination which has been rarely equalled in our history.


The great work of Chief Justice Vanderbilt and his enduring title to fame was in judicial administration, organization of courts, and remaking American legal procedure to the needs of the crowded and hypermechanized world and complex social order of today. His work for law reform, organization of courts, organization of the administrative work of the courts and for legal education make a consistent whole and mark him as entitled to a high place among those who have raised our institutions of justice to their highest possibilities.


Harvard Law School

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