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1983, Mount Laurel 2

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Ten years after the original trial decision and eight years after the New Jersey Supreme Court first announced the “Mount Laurel doctrine,” an exasperated but determined Chief Justice Wilentz vowed to “put some steel in that doctrine” with a sweeping opinion that ran to nearly 250 pages in slip form and over 120 pages in the case reporters. The oral argument took four entire days. The Court then considered the matter for over two years before issuing its opinion, a magnum opus on the right to affordable housing.

In the second Mount Laurel decision, South Burlington County N.A.A.C.P. v. Township of Mount Laurel, 92 N.J. 158 (1983), Justice Wilentz argued that the Mount Laurel doctrine was right and had done some good but the administration of the doctrine had failed. He stated:

'This Court is more firmly committed to the original Mount Laurel doctrine than ever, and we are determined, within appropriate judicial bounds, to make it work. The obligation is to provide a realistic opportunity for housing, not litigation. We have learned from experience, however, that unless a strong judicial hand is used, Mount Laurel will not result in housing, but in paper, process, witnesses, trials and appeals. We intend by this decision to strengthen it, clarify it, and make it easier for public officials, including judges, to apply it."

Mount Laurel II helped to resolve many questions and put teeth in the original doctrine by creating a fair share formula to measure each municipality's obligation to provide affordable housing, and by fashioning a "builder's remedy" to force municipalities to fulfill that obligation. The responsibility for working out the details of this decision was assigned by the Supreme Court to three specially designated trial judges, two of whom, Judges Serpentelli and Skillman, handled the most important issues. They heard numerous builder's remedy cases from 1983 until 1986, when most cases were transferred to the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) which had been created by the New Jersey Fair Housing Act of 1985.

Documents in this archive include not only the decisions, but the briefs, memos, motions and letters of the litigators that provide an in-depth look into the making of this landmark opinion.

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Southern Burlington County NAACP v. Mt. Laurel, 92 N.J. 158 (Jan. 20, 1983). This action consolidated four other cases (listed above).

 

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