John J. Farmer, Jr., Dean and Professor of Law at Rutgers School of Law–Newark, has received the Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. Award from the Association of the Federal Bar of New Jersey. The award, which was presented on June 14, 2012 at AFBNJ’s 36th annual dinner, is given each year to outstanding jurists or lawyers whose contributions to the profession merit special recognition.
Dean Farmer was introduced by the Hon. James R. Zazzali, retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey and currently of counsel with Gibbons P.C. Describing Farmer as “not only a state treasure but a national resource,” Justice Zazzali said that “whatever the future holds for him, we need John Farmer’s voice, his words, his leadership and, most of all, his conscience.”
In accepting the Brennan Award, Farmer observed that the Ireland which William Brennan’s parents had left before the future U.S. Supreme Court justice’s 1906 birth in Newark and which Farmer’s grandparents still inhabited in 1906 “was a society based largely on status, on class, on privilege and pedigree. You were born to a certain station in life, and there, to a large degree, you remained.” In contrast, the country into which William Brennan was born and to which Farmer’s grandparents came was a nation of “expanding and expansive opportunity” for Americans “of all races, creeds, genders.” Products of this expansion of opportunity include notable Rutgers Law School graduates Richard Hughes ’31, Peter Rodino ’37 and Louis Freeh ’74, as well as Farmer’s father and mother, who was one of the first women to work as a biochemist at Pfizer.
Today, with “field after field in American life dominated by small and closed circles of the empowered,” Farmer fears for the future of opportunity. “I’m not sure we still live in a nation where Robert Jackson could go to law school at Albany and dream legitimately of being on the U.S. Supreme Court or where Elizabeth Warren could graduate from Rutgers and hope to teach at Harvard,” he said.
“I fear that we are moving increasingly in the opposite direction, toward a status-based society and away from the kind of opportunity that made William Brennan’s career possible. I pledge to you tonight,” he concluded, “to resist that trend toward a status-based society. I hope that all of you will do so too. It’s the best way generally to honor Justice Brennan’s legacy, and the best way tonight for me to say thank you for this award.”
John Farmer became Dean of Rutgers School of Law–Newark in July 2009 after a distinguished career in government service and private practice. As an Assistant U.S. Attorney, he prosecuted crimes ranging from kidnapping and arms dealing to bank fraud and in 1993 received the U.S. Attorney General’s Special Achievement Award for Sustained Performance. He served in Gov. Christine Todd Whitman’s administration as assistant counsel, deputy chief counsel, and then chief counsel, and from 1999-2002 as New Jersey attorney general, where his accomplishments include chairing the State’s first Domestic Preparedness Task Force.
From 2003-2004, as senior counsel and team leader for the 9/11 Commission, Farmer led the investigation of the country’s preparedness for and response to the terrorist attacks and was a principal author of the Commission’s final report. His book, The Ground Truth: The Story Behind America’s Defense on 9/11, was named one of the 100 notable books of 2009 by the New York Times.
Listed in Best Lawyers in America, Farmer was a partner at K&L Gates and in 2007 became a founding partner of the law firm Arseneault, Whipple, Farmer, Fassett and Azzarello, LLP. In addition to his law practice, in 2008 he served as senior advisor to General James Jones, Special Envoy for Middle East Regional Security, on development of the rule of law in the Palestinian Authority territory, and was invited by the U.S. Embassy in Armenia to assist that nation’s legislative commission in investigating widespread violence and unrest following its elections.
Dean Farmer is a frequent contributor to major media of opinion columns and essays on legal and political issues. He also has lectured extensively on post-9/11 safety and security issues, and spoken on panels at Harvard Law School, the University of Southern California, and Johns Hopkins University’s Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.
Dean Farmer is president of the board of trustees of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and a former member of the New Jersey Governor’s Ethics Advisory Board.
Click here to read the full text of Dean Farmer’s remarks.