June 18, 2024
Credit: Dennett Robertson

Eva Hanks, a distinguished figure in legal education, a pioneer for women in academia, and Rutgers Law School’s first woman law professor, passed away on June 12, 2024 at the age of 95. Her career spanned over five decades, leaving an indelible mark on Rutgers Law School and the broader legal profession.

Born in Berlin, Germany to Jewish and Christian parents, Hanks survived the harrowing years of Nazi Germany, an experience that shaped her resilience and determination. After World War II, she earned a law degree from the Free University of Berlin before immigrating to the United States. She went on to earn a JD from UCLA Law School and an LLM and JSD from Columbia Law School.

In 1960, Hanks began her career as an associate in law at Columbia Law School. Two years later, she made history as the first woman law professor at Rutgers Law School.

“As the first woman on the faculty at Rutgers Law School in 1962, Professor Eva Hanks was a trailblazer who paved the way for many other female faculty to follow in her footsteps,” says Rutgers Law School Dean Johanna Bond. “In fact, she played a pivotal role in bringing the second woman to the Rutgers Law faculty, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” Reflecting on this time, Justice Ginsburg remarked that Rutgers was “surely ahead of the pack,” adding that Hanks was “a great and good friend, tipping me off to the ways of the brethren here, much as Sandra Day O’Connor did when I was new on the Supreme Court.”

Hanks’ tenure at Rutgers Law was transformative, not only for her pioneering role but also for her influence in shaping the academic environment and helping women gain acceptance in the legal academy. "She did indeed provide years of very able and dedicated service to Rutgers Law School," remarked Professor Emeritus Norman Cantor.

Professor Hanks in 1963

With Hanks’ legacy leading the way, Rutgers Law has remained committed to the advancement of women in law. Today, more than 60 percent of its faculty is comprised of women, and the 2023-2024 academic year saw the most women enrolled in the school’s history—about 59 percent of Rutgers Law’s more than 400 full-time and part-time students were women.

Hanks went on to teach at Princeton University, Indiana University, and New York University, before joining the founding faculty of Cardozo Law School in 1976, where she remained until her retirement in 2014. As Rutgers Law Professor Emeritus Paul Tractenberg notes, "She was a powerful figure in the legal academy for more than 50 years."

Hanks’ impact extended into the realm of environmental law, a field she helped define from its inception in the 1970s. Recognizing the burgeoning importance of environmental issues, Hanks cultivated expertise in the field of water rights and later co-authored the seminal casebook Environmental Law and Policy with Dan Tarlock and her husband, John Hanks. This work was one of the very first casebooks dedicated to environmental law and policy, and is considered a foundational, field-defining text.

Professor Hanks in 1967

In 1994, she published Elements of Law, a collaboration with Michael Herz and Steven Nemerson. This influential work continues to serve as a cornerstone for law students across the country, aimed at cultivating the analytical, interpretive, and advocacy skills crucial for both legal education and practice.

Colleagues and students alike remember Hanks not only for her intellectual prowess but also for her dedication as an educator. Formidable and demanding in the classroom, Hanks cared deeply for her students and was completely dedicated to their success. In her later years, she held office hours in the student lounge, and could often be spotted surrounded by students lucky enough to benefit from her guidance and wisdom.

Hanks leaves an enduring imprint on legal education, environmental law, and the advancement of women in academia. In remembering and honoring Hanks, we celebrate not only her achievements but also her unwavering commitment to justice, education, and the transformative power of the law. Her legacy will continue to inspire and resonate within the halls of Rutgers Law School and beyond.

Rutgers Law Media Contact:
Shanida Carter

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