Hon. Joseph H. Rodríguez
Senior Federal Judge
U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey
The Honorable Joseph H. Rodríguez was born in Camden, New Jersey to a Puerto Rican mother and a Cuban father, and has resided there for the majority of his life. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from LaSalle University in 1955 and his Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) from Rutgers University School of Law in 1958. Upon graduating from law school, Judge Rodríguez set up a private practice in Camden where he specialized in medical malpractice and product liability cases. Judge Rodríguez was chairman of Camden Legal Services, the State Commission of Investigation, the State Board of Higher Education, and was the first Hispanic president of the New Jersey State Bar Association. He was named the Public Advocate for the State of New Jersey, and held that position from 1982 to 1985. During his years practicing law, Judge Rodríguez advocated a number of precedential cases, including Marini v. Ireland, which established tenants’ rights; Schipper v. Levitt, which created strict liability for builders and vendors; Abbot v. Burke, which addressed education reform; and the landmark Southern Burlington County N.A.A.C.P. v. Township of Mount Laurel, which was concerned with the building of low and middle income housing within the boundaries of townships. Judge Rodríguez felt it was important to work within the system, using the legal system, to effectuate positive change for minority communities. In 1985, Judge Rodríguez was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey by President Ronald Reagan; in 1998 he became a senior judge. Judge Rodríguez has been deeply involved in the Camden community in other capacities, most notably being among the original organizers of the San Juan Bautista Parade with other parishioners from the Our Lady of Fatima Church.
Prepared by Elizabeth Parker, Associate Archivist.
Hear Judge Rodríguez discuss the history of Camden, New Jersey and how much it has changed in his lifetime:
“What was Camden like? Well, Camden, actually, this is a bit of history. It was incorporated in 1828. And, if you can consider that Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, it was two years after Jefferson died that Camden was developed. Camden was a vibrant community. In Camden we had places like the Harley Department Store, Highland Wooden Mills, Armstrong Corp., Hunt Penn, Penny’s Department Store, Lit Brothers, J.B. Van Sciver’s, which was a furniture store, Campbell Soup, RCA Victor, [and] the Walt Whitman Hotel was the first million dollar grant hotel in the city. We had thirteen theaters, movie theaters, in the city of Camden. We had a Horn and Hardart’s [automat]. We had a Sears and Roebuck. We had the Whitman House. It was a vibrant community. The downtown was booming. Saturday nights, it was like walking the boardwalk. If you [walked] down Broadway, [passing] the stores and the activity on Kaighn Avenue, it was great.
Interviewer: And did you… living that time, I mean, your experiences… was it being in those spaces, like in the market, on the boardwalk?
Yes… a big Saturday night special would be to walk from our house on Haddon Avenue to Kaighn, from Kaighn to Broadway, and Broadway to Federal, Federal back to Haddon, and Haddon [back to our home] because it was just all kinds of activity going on along Broadway. Then, a variety of reasons started to weaken the city. Of course, when they put the [Benjamin Franklin] Bridge in, that’s back in back in the ’30s, that pretty much split the city. They started with highways, and highways kept infringing upon the residential areas in the city of Camden. Fast forward up to where we are now. Most of the negative activities [of the state] were hidden in the city of Camden: they put the prison here; they put the sewer plant here; they put the cement plant here. All the negative, land–depressing activities started to hit the city of Camden. [Then], as the community continued to grow, there was a housing shortage.”
Text edited for clarity. For a full verbatim transcript of the quote, please see p. 10-11 of the complete interview transcript.
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