Peter W. Rodino, Jr. was born to Pellegrino Rodino and Giuseppina (Margaret) Girard on June 7, 1909, in the North Ward of Newark, New Jersey. Peter was christened Pellegino, but his first name was later “Americanized.” His father had been born in Italy, in the province of Avellino, town of Altripaldi, in 1883 and came to the United States in 1900. At the time he settled in Newark, the senior Pelligrino Rodino could not speak English. Giuseppina, Peter’s mother, was born in Newark around 1884. His parents married in 1905. Peter was the third of three children. His mother died in 1913, and his father re-married Antonia DeRobertis who was the widow of Michael Paladino. Called “Gemma,” she was an Italian immigrant who spoke English as well as Italian, so Rodino was raised in a bi-lingual household. His father worked in a leather factory, as a cabinet maker and carpenter, and then at General Motors (Hyatt Roller Bearing) as a toolmaker for thirty years. Gemma died in 1944. Pelligrino Rodino died in 1957 at the age of 74.
Mr. Rodino attended McKinley Grammar School, graduating in February 1922. In his formative years, he was an avid reader and developed a love of classic literature and poetry. He attended Central High School from 1922-1923, and graduated from Barringer High School in 1927. Mr. Rodino was a student at Dana College from 1927-1929 and concurrently worked for the Public Service Railroad and Transportation Company. Mr. Rodino held various jobs during the Depression. From 1930-1934, he found work as an insurance salesman, an employee of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and a factory worker, including a period at the Ronson Art Metal Works company making cigarette lighters. From 1930-1932, he taught public speaking and citizenship classes at the YMCA and Federation Clubs of Newark. Rodino loved to write, and penned poems, short stories, and a novel. He also wrote songs in collaboration with Anthony Petalino, a composer and musician.
Mr. Rodino attended New Jersey Law School from 1934-1937. Both New Jersey Law School and Dana College later became part of Rutgers University. He worked his way through law school attending classes in the afternoon. While in law school, Mr. Rodino was active as a member of the Student Council, Observer Law Staff, Seal and Scroll, McClelland Law Club, and the Debating Team.
Admitted to the bar in 1937, Mr. Rodino opened his own law practice in Newark. He turned to political life in 1940 when he mounted an unsuccessful campaign for the New Jersey Assembly. It was also during this time that he was appointed as an appeals agent for the Newark Draft Board, and was thereby exempt from the draft. However, when World War II began in 1941, Mr. Rodino curtailed his law practice to enlist in the Army. In December of 1941, he married Marianne (Ann) Stango, whom he originally met in high school.
Mr. Rodino served overseas from 1942-1946. He attended the British Officers Training University of England and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He served with the First Armored Division in North Africa, and later in Italy with the Military Mission Italian Army, a joint Allied force. Because he was fluent in Italian, Rodino became the adjutant to the Commanding General of Rome, in charge of all Allied logistics for the city. Rodino was honored for his service with the Bronze Star, as well as with decorations from the Republic of Italy.
In March 1946 Mr. Rodino returned from World War II as a Captain, and was encouraged to once again enter politics. He ran for Congress in the tenth district against Republican Fred Hartley, Jr. and lost, but ran again in 1948 and won. He took office in 1949 where he remained until his retirement in 1989. Once in office Mr. Rodino was assigned to the Veterans Affairs Committee and in 1950 was selected by Emanuel Celler to fill a vacancy on the Judiciary Committee. As a member of the Judiciary Committee Mr. Rodino was instrumental in the enactment of legislation to assure equal rights, reform immigration policy, and fight crime. He authored majority reports on civil rights legislation of 1957, 1960, 1964, and 1968, was the author of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and was floor manager of the 1966 Civil Rights Act. Mr. Rodino also cosponsored the Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, and authored the Monday holiday bill which made Columbus Day a national holiday. From 1971-1973 he chaired the Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality Subcommittee, and was instrumental in the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Mr. Rodino served as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee from 1973-1989, and, during his first year as Chairman, he directed the Presidential impeachment inquiry of Richard M. Nixon. He also chaired the Committee’s Monopolies and Commercial Law Subcommittee.
During his years in Congress, Rodino became of Dean of the New Jersey Congressional delegation. He served as Assistant Majority Whip of the House from 1965-1972, a member of the Democratic Steering & Policy Committee from 1965-1972, and Senior Member of the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control in 1977 and from 1979-1988. In addition to domestic interests, Mr. Rodino also served on various international committees. He served as a delegate to the North Atlantic Assembly where he was Chairman of the Scientific and Technical Committee; to the Working Group on the Control of Narcotics from 1962-1972; and to the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration dealing with refugee problems from 1962-1972. He retired from the House in January 1989.
After retirement, Mr. Rodino served as a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Constitutional Law at Seton Hall University Law School in Newark. He was a member of the faculty from 1989 until his death in 2005. Between 1990 and 1999, he taught two seminars each year, providing students a unique opportunity to actively participate in research, study, and discussion of some of the many areas of law affected by his time in public office. Enrollment was limited to 25 students, and the courses were fully subscribed. Most of the term was taken up with traditional small class discussion of pertinent issues. Each student also undertook a research paper on a specific topic, with the research results being presented in the seminar in the latter stages of the term. Critique and commentary was provided by Professor Rodino. The first term seminar concentrated on Civil Rights and Immigration, including in particular the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1986 Immigration Reform & Control Act. The second term seminar dealt with Watergate and the Iran Contra Affair. These courses were co-taught with Professors Gil Carrasco and E. Judson Jennings.
While at Seton Hall, Professor Rodino participated in many significant programs and events, including a Celebration of the Bicentennial of the Bill of Rights. He also wrote several important law review articles on the Ninth Amendment, the Special Prosecutor Statute, the Preamble to the Constitution, and the Presidency.
On May 7, 2005, Mr. Rodino died of congestive heart failure at his home in West Orange, New Jersey. He was 95 years old. He lay in state at Seton Hall Law Chapel and the Funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Lucy’s Church in Newark. Burial took place at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in East Hanover, New Jersey. Mr. Rodino was predeceased by his wife Ann in 1980. He is survived by his children Margaret Stanziale and Peter W. Rodino III, three grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and by Joy Judelson Rodino, whom he married in 1989.