With the exception of Governor Christine Todd Whitman, Deborah T. Poritz is the most visible woman in New Jersey politics. She was the first woman to serve as the state’s attorney general, and on July 10, 1996, she was sworn in as the first woman chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. She was nominated by Governor Whitman on June 13, 1996, and is the first Republican chief justice to serve in twenty-five years.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1936, Deborah Tobias was also raised there. She received her B.A. degree magna cum laude from Brooklyn College in 1958 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. As a Woodrow Wilson fellow, she studied English and American literature at Columbia University, and then pursued graduate studies at Brandeis University from 1959 to 1962.
For three years, she taught composition and literature at Ursinus College outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. But when her husband, Alan Poritz, a mathematician, got a job in Princeton, New Jersey, she decided to go to law school. She received her law degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1977, shortly after turning forty.
Her first job as a lawyer was in environmental law. She joined the office of the New Jersey attorney general as a deputy attorney general in the Division of Law in the Environmental Protection Section. In 1981, she was appointed deputy attorney general in charge of appeals and chief of the Banking, Insurance, and Public Securities Section. From 1986 to 1989, she served as assistant attorney general and director of the Division of Law, where she supervised more than three hundred attorneys for the state.
From 1989 to the beginning of 1990, she served as the principal advisor to Governor Thomas H. Kean on legal and policy matters. When Governor Kean left office in 1990, she joined the Princeton law firm of Jamieson, Moore, Peskin & Spicer, where she was a partner. She left there in 1994 to become attorney general. She served as attorney general from 1994 to 1996, when she was named chief justice. With the completion of her seven year term, Poritz was renominated to the Supreme Court in 2003, giving her a mandate to continue as chief justice until she reaches the compulsory retirement age of seventy, in October 2006.
When she was appointed Chief Justice, the president of the New Jersey state Bar Association, Cynthia M. Jacob, told the New York Times, “she has played an active role in virtually every public issue that has been litigated through the attorney general’s office for many years.”
Poritz and her husband have two adult sons, Mark and Jonathan.
New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety, Office of the Attorney General. Press release, June 17, 1996
NYTimes, June 14, 1996, and July 11, 1996.
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Wall, Alexandra J.. "Deborah T. Poritz." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 11, 2020) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/poritz-deborah-t>.