Photo courtesy of the Supreme Court of the State of Delaware

The ACLU of Delaware lost another of our founding members late last month, when Joe Rosenthal passed away on September 27, 2020 at age 88. A graduate of Yale University (1953) and Harvard Law School (1956), Joe actively practiced law in Delaware from 1957 until 2012.

Joe and his late wife Joan were among the small group of far-sighted ACLU supporters who in 1961 recognized that the ACLU of Delaware, which then was a chapter of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, should become an ACLU affiliate in its own right. Joan became Delaware ACLU’s second Executive Director, a position she ably fulfilled, without salary, until 1986. Joe served for years on the Board of Directors for both the ACLU of Delaware and the affiliate’s foundation arm, ACLF of Delaware.

Prior to 2005, the ACLU of Delaware did not have the financial resources to hire a staff attorney, so the organization started a Legal Review Panel, of which Joe was a founding member. This group was responsible for reviewing requests for legal assistance coming to the affiliate and recruiting members of the Bar to take on cases the Panel deemed worthy of pursuit. The Legal Review Panel continues to the present time, although its function has changed to serving as an advisory group for the organization’s legal staff.

Joe handled many pro bono civil liberties cases, most notably working on the school desegregation and Ferris School litigations. Joe and Joan were also significant supporters of Planned Parenthood of Delaware. Joe combined his work for both organizations in Planned Parenthood of Delaware v. Brady, 250 F. Supp. 2d 405 (D. Del. 2003) in which he obtained a federal injunction against the State’s effort to enforce a 24-hour waiting period on abortions.

For their many contributions to the protection and promotion of civil liberties in our State, the ACLU of Delaware recognized Joe and Joan with its highest award, the Gerald E. Kandler Memorial Award, in 1994. 

Another of Joe’s significant contribution to our State was his leading the DSBA’s effort to establish Delaware Volunteer Legal Services and chairing the new organization during its formative period from 1981-87. In 1986, the DSBA honored Joe’s commitment to the legal profession and the community with the First State Distinguished Service Award. 

Joe’s commitment to civility, professionalism, civil liberties, and the welfare of Delaware’s citizens stands as an example of a life well lived. Joe’s family, the ACLU of Delaware, Joe’s professional colleagues at Rosenthal Monhait Gross & Goddess, his clients, and many others, were all privileged to be part of his life.