Son of Robinson
Marilyn Morheuser almost did not get the job that would become the center of her life. In 1979, 350 people applied to run the Education Law Center (ELC), the nonprofit law firm that would soon revive school-funding litigation in New Jersey, and she was not one of them.
In the six years since her law school graduation, Morheuser had worked on an array of liberal legal causes, but she had not yet found a ruling passion to fill every corner of her life, the way the convent and the civil rights movement once had. She had spent a year crafting criminal appeals for the state public defender’s office, then another year representing mental patients for the Department of the Public Advocate, New Jersey’s government ombudsman. For three years, she had worked for the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, participating in the landmark housing discrimination case known as Mount Laurel, after the South Jersey suburb whose zoning ordinances, the state supreme court had recently decided, were illegally tailored to keep out the poor. In 1978, she had returned to her first job with the appeals section of the public defender’s office, this time with new supervisory responsibilities, but the office atmosphere was tense, and friends knew Morheuser was not committed to staying. Her dissatisfaction came at an opportune moment, for elsewhere in Newark, the Education Law Center was at a crossroads of its own.
In the dining room of the Ford Foundation’s midtown Manhattan offices, the plates sat atop paper doilies, and many a foundation project had