The son of Italian immigrants, Peter Rodino was born on June 7, 1909. Raised in Newark, New Jersey, where he lived for most of his life, he received his law degree from New Jersey Law School (now Rutgers) in 1937. He volunteered for service in the army in World War II, and was commissioned as an officer overseas. Peter served with the First Armored Division in North Africa and Italy, and with the Military Mission Italian Army. He was awarded the Bronze Star, and was discharged as a captain in 1946.
Elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1948, Peter served there until his retirement in 1989.
From 1989 until his death, at age 95, on May 7, 2005, Peter served as the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Constitutional Law at Seton Hall University School of Law in Newark, New Jersey. The library at the law school, named in his honor, houses his Congressional papers in the Peter W. Rodino, Jr. Archives.
Married to the late Marianne Stango, Peter had two children, three grandchildren, and now three great-grandchildren. In 1989 he married Joy Judelson, and they lived in New Jersey for the last sixteen years of Peter’s life.
PETER RODINO’S POLITICAL CAREER
During his forty years in Congress, Peter played instrumental roles in the enactment of many historic pieces of legislation in the fields of civil rights, crime-control, anti-trust law, and immigration reform. He held many leadership positions, serving as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration and International Law, Subcommittee on Monopolies and Commercial Law, and, from 1972-1989, as Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary. In 1973-1974, Peter presided over the first presidential impeachment inquiry in over 100 years.
In addition, Peter served as NATO Parliamentarian and was elected as Chairman of the Intergovernmental Committee on European Migration. He was also appointed to numerous presidential commissions on crime, immigration, and anti-trust law.
Peter’s name was placed in nomination for the democratic vice presidency in 1972, and he was also seriously considered by President Carter as a vice-presidential candidate in 1976, which consideration he declined. In recognition of his distinguished career, Peter was honored with many national and international awards, including being named a Knight of the Order of the Crown of Italy and Knight of Malta, and receiving Italy’s highest decoration, the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy. He also received numerous honorary degrees.
FROM THE ALMANAC OF AMERICAN POLITICS, DESCRIBING PETER’S DEDICATED SERVICE DURING THE IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY
“One of the most powerful members of the House in the 1980’s has been Peter Rodino—he is widely respected in the House and personally well liked. He is also a man who by chance was called on to play an important part in American history and he played it well.” [Referring to the Watergate Scandal].
“One strength of the American political system is that it has produced people of extraordinary talent who have happened to find their way into crucial positions at critical times and who have performed far better than their records gave anyone the right to expect. Such leaders have come from the most unlikely places: a Lincoln from the Midwestern hick town of Springfield, Illinois; a Franklin Roosevelt from the aristocratic patroon families of the Hudson Valley. In that tradition is Peter Rodino, from Newark, New Jersey….” — The Almanac of American Politics, 1986, p.859.
FROM THE BOOK: Excerpt 1
We married in 1989, just as Peter retired from Congress and began his new career as a professor at Seton Hall University School of Law.
That was when I first heard Peter express his admiration for what five of our Founding Fathers were able to accomplish over the course of six short days: drafting the fifty-two words that would become the Preamble to the Constitution. To him, the Constitution was the heart of our nation, the mechanism that gave life to the system under which we live, a government of checks and balances, of rights and responsibilities. The Preamble was our country’s soul, not only projecting a vision of who we are as a people but also expressing the limitless possibilities of all that we can be:
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Those fifty-two words were as sacred to my husband as the Bible. He made reference to them in every discussion he had about politics and the state of the world, in every speech he gave and in every class he led.
FROM THE BOOK: Excerpt 2
As the impeachment inquiry began, Peter remembered those words of his father that had instilled in him a high moral standard and respect for people in authority. As he told me, “The last thing I wanted to do was to impeach the president and hold him responsible for misdeeds which would have caused us to remove him from office.”5 Peter said that he venerated the office of the president and that it was important that he not be viewed as the “Democratic” chairman. He had to demonstrate both by word and by deed his impartiality.
. . . .
In late July 1974, the committee held a televised debate about whether to recommend a resolution, together with articles of impeachment, to impeach the president of the United States. There were three articles of impeachment, charging that one, the president had acted to cover up the Watergate break-in; two, he had abused the powers of his office; and three, he had obstructed justice. Peter recalled that when, in a hushed voice, he voted aye to recommend impeachment on the first article, he felt completely drained. At the conclusion of that historic vote, he adjourned the meeting, bypassed all the reporters and staff, went into his little office off the committee room, and called his wife. “Ann,” he said, “I guess you heard.” And he put the phone down and burst into tears.
In anguish, “we the people” had spoken. The “more perfect union,” a nation of laws, not of men, had been preserved.