NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) is monitoring several pieces of legislation that are before the New Jersey Legislature today.
The following statements are from Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey, about those bills.
"For years, the NYPD conducted secret intelligence gathering activities in New Jersey targeted at Muslim community members who engaged in no wrongdoing. The New Jersey public was kept in the dark during these investigations, which targeted New Jersey residents based on their religious beliefs. Senate Bill No. 2311 will ensure that the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies will be unable to conduct their operations in our state without informing New Jersey law enforcement officials of their activities. While such a step is welcomed, it will not in-and-of-itself address the problem of NYPD operations in our state. At the very least, any bill that passes the state legislature should also include a requirement that the public be kept informed, in a manner that protects the integrity of legitimate law enforcement investigations, of any NYPD and other intelligence gathering operations in our state, particularly those operations that implicate First Amendment rights."
"The ACLU-NJ strongly supports the Tuition Equality Act. The time has come for New Jersey to end its unequal treatment of undocumented immigrants seeking to enroll in New Jersey’s colleges and universities. More than three decades ago, the United States Supreme Court, in Plyler v. Doe, held that undocumented students must be given equal access to a public school education. Yet in New Jersey today, undocumented students who graduate from our high schools and wish to attend our state colleges or universities are forced to pay much higher rates – in some cases more than twice as much – than their classmates for no other reason than their status as undocumented immigrants. This form of unequal access and unequal treatment must end. The New Jersey Legislature should ensure equal access to all students who call our state home, regardless of their immigration status, and pass A-4225."
"The ACLU-NJ supports the establishment of standards to regulate law enforcement's use of unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones. Drone technology is growing by leaps and bounds, yet there are no meaningful rules in place to regulate drone activities. Senate Bill No. 2702 will ensure that law enforcement agencies in New Jersey use drones only for legitimate law enforcement purposes. We support the bill's passage. We also believe that the public must be kept continuously informed of drone activities in our state, and that any drone legislation should also include a public reporting requirement on the use of drones in our state. The ACLU-NJ has filed public records requests with 15 law enforcement agencies in New Jersey for information regarding the purchase and use of drones, but it should not take an official records request and potential litigation for the public to be informed about the use of drones in our state."
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey strongly supports the Opportunity to Compete Act, a bill that could help thousands upon thousands in our state fulfill their dreams of a better life. Just yesterday, June 13, 2013, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission declared the use of criminal background checks a proxy for discrimination in employment, the first ruling of its kind. Clearly, the Opportunity to Compete Act could not come at a more dire time.
In an already poor job market, a candidate with a criminal record finds all doors closed. The racial disparities in the criminal justice system bear some responsibility for the high unemployment rate among people of color. By giving people who deserve a second chance a modicum of power in their job search, this legislation could eliminate some of the back-door racial and ethnic discrimination people with criminal records face on a daily basis.
Our society holds up a double standard for people with criminal records, asking them to rehabilitate themselves but placing obstacles in front of them every step of the way. Someone with a criminal history lives with the ever-present anxiety that a disclosure of their past could eclipse all of their other merits, and they brace themselves for rejection.
For countless people in New Jersey, this legislation could mean a future where their merits, and not their mistakes from the past, determine their potential. We hope the New Jersey Legislature will give people who want to become contributing members of society the chance to follow that path unhindered.
NEWARK – The state of New Jersey has denied a request (131k PDF) by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) to release the applications of all higher education institutions that applied for public funding for construction projects, stating that if the information were made public, it would “give an advantage to competitors or bidders.” The ACLU-NJ filed the requests to learn more about the nature of the schools receiving funding, and in particular to determine whether Gov. Chris Christie’s administration violated the divide between church and state.
“New Jersey has an important interest in supporting higher education in the state, but it cannot be done at the expense of the separation of church and state,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “Public money should not be used to fund religious schools or institutions that may discriminate. Yet both appear to be happening under Gov. Christie’s proposal.”
“The state’s rationale for refusing to release the applications we requested makes no sense. The application process is already closed, so there would be no advantage or disadvantage in releasing these records,” Ofer added.
The state also failed to release scoring sheets and other records documenting how New Jersey Higher Education determined whether schools were eligible for funds and how much they should receive.
In May, the state released a list of 176 college building projects it selected to receive state grants from a voter-approved bond. The ACLU-NJ and state lawmakers have pressed New Jersey Higher Education to shed light on the criteria it used to select projects to fund. The ACLU-NJ is concerned that at least two of the institutions on the list, Beth Medrash Govoha and Princeton Theological Seminary, exist with the primary mission of training sectarian religious leaders and may be discriminatory in their polices or practices.
Beth Medrash Govoha, an Orthodox yeshiva in Lakewood, received $10.6 million. According to New Jersey Higher Education, Beth Medrash Govoha is a rabbinical school. Princeton Theological Seminary, which trains male and female Christian ministers, received $645,313.
The state legislature can reject the list within 60 days of its release.
On May 8, the ACLU-NJ filed a request under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) for the applications of all private schools that received funding. It filed a separate request for the guidelines and parameters the state used in determining the grant amounts.
The state released to the ACLU-NJ only broad guidelines, which allow for great discretion in selecting how much each project receives.
On May 10, the ACLU-NJ filed a third OPRA request seeking all applications, scoring sheets and all correspondence between New Jersey Higher Education and representatives from each applicant. The state asked to extend the deadline for that request to June 24. The ACLU-NJ agreed to give the state more time to locate emails and other correspondence, but asked the state to release the scoring sheets by May 31. The state failed to meet that deadline.
“It’s extremely troubling that Gov. Christie’s administration expects the legislature to rubber stamp this list without answering any questions about how these schools were selected,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Edward Barocas. “The legislature should reject the funding until these serious public concerns are addressed.”
Newark, NJ – According to a new report (5.64mb PDF) by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Blacks in New Jersey were arrested for marijuana possession at 2.84 times the rate of whites in 2010, despite comparable marijuana usage rates. The report, Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests, released today, is the first ever to examine state and county marijuana arrest rates nationwide by race. The findings show that while there were pronounced racial disparities in marijuana arrests 10 years ago, they have grown significantly worse.
“The War on Marijuana has disproportionately been a war on people of color,” says Ezekiel Edwards, Director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the ACLU and one of the primary authors of the report. “State and local governments have aggressively enforced marijuana laws selectively against Black people and communities, needlessly ensnaring hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system at tremendous human and financial cost.”
In New Jersey, the counties with the largest racial disparity in marijuana possession arrests were Hunterdon, Ocean and Monmouth. Statewide, police officers made 21,659 arrests for marijuana possession in 2010, and marijuana possession rates accounted for 43.4 percent of all drug arrests in 2010. In the past 10 years, marijuana possession arrest rates have risen 8.9 percent and the racial disparities among such arrests have increased 33.4 percent.
“This report confirms what advocates across the country have known for a long time: that the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ is a failure, and it needs to end,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “The ‘War on Marijuana’ in particular has wrought tragic consequences for a generation of young Black men and their loved ones. That’s why advocates throughout our state have been pushing for legislation for years that would decriminalize marijuana and as a result curb the racially disparate punishment of low-level drug offenses.”
The ACLU-NJ supports two bills in the New Jersey legislature, S1977 and A1465, to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, punishable with a $100 civil penalty rather than the potential of prison time. S1977 designates 50 grams as the upper limit, while A1465 designates that limit as 15 grams. New Jersey legalized medicinal marijuana in 2010, but implementation of the law has been stymied since its enactment.
The ACLU-NJ continues to call on local and state police to stop the practices that lead to disparate enforcement of marijuana possession laws. The ACLU-NJ recommends that all police departments throughout the state focus on more serious crimes, end racial profiling and stop unfair use of stop-and-frisk tactics. The federal government should also stop providing incentives to police departments for making arrests, and instead encourage stronger transparency, data collection, and external oversight of departments. These incentives contribute to the disparate enforcement of marijuana possession laws.
Despite the fact that a majority of Americans now support marijuana legalization, New Jersey spent an estimated $127 million enforcing marijuana laws in 2010. Nationally, states spent an estimated $3.61 billion enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010 alone.
“The aggressive policing of marijuana is time-consuming, costly, racially biased, and doesn’t work,” says Edwards. “These arrests have a significant detrimental impact on people’s lives, as well as on the communities in which they live. When people are arrested for possessing even tiny amounts of marijuana, they can be disqualified from public housing and student financial aid, lose or find it more difficult to obtain employment, lose custody of their child, and be deported. In addition, the targeted enforcement of marijuana possession laws against people of color creates a community of mistrust and reduced cooperation with the police, which damages public safety. Furthermore, despite being a priority for many police departments across the states for the past decade, the aggressive enforcement of marijuana laws has not even accomplished one of law enforcement’s purported goals: to eradicate or even diminish the use of marijuana.” Key findings from the report include:
“Many politicians treat marijuana as a punch line, even as the most vulnerable among us sit in prison cells, losing years of their lives for offenses that the powers-that-be all too often consider a joke,” Ofer said. “The criminal justice system in the U.S. and New Jersey must answer the call from the majority of the people to end anti-drug policies that for the most part target drug use among people of color.”
In the report, the organization urges lawmakers and law enforcement to reform policing practices, including ending racial profiling as well as unconstitutional stops, frisks, and searches, and also to reform state and federal funding streams that incentivize police to make low-level drug arrests.
Review New Jersey-specific data, view multimedia, and read the ACLU’s report: The War on Marijuana in Black and White.
NEWARK – The ACLU of New Jersey mourns the loss of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, who stood out as a relentless champion of civil liberties throughout his four decades in Congress. New Jersey has lost a leader defined by his compassion, integrity and concern for society’s most vulnerable.
Lautenberg championed civil rights throughout his career, from authoring the Ryan White Care Act, enacted in 1990, to leading the charge to reverse the Peace Corps’ policy of denying women coverage of abortion services just this April. He challenged the assault on civil liberties following the Sept. 11 attacks while preserving funding to defend our ports, recognizing that Americans can be both safe and free. He voted to preserve habeas corpus in Guantanamo Bay, to require reports from CIA interrogators, and to prohibit government wiretaps undertaken without a warrant.
“Sen. Lautenberg constantly made New Jersey proud, not only for standing up for the rights of Americans, but often for leading the charge to preserve those rights,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “He led with a personal imperative to serve the people who elected him, and his tenacity in doing the right thing on their behalf only sharpened over the years. He never lost sight of where he came from, and he never lost his fire for righting an injustice. Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s tireless fight to strengthen our freedoms has made our country, and New Jersey, a better place for all who live here.”
“Our country lost a true civil liberties titan today,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. “From his service during World War II to his final months in the Senate, Sen. Lautenberg understood the importance of fighting for the rights of every American. He was a champion for religious liberty and leaves behind a legacy of fighting for women’s rights and reproductive freedom. We will sorely miss his voice and passion.”
NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) filed a public records request today seeking the parameters and guidelines Gov. Chris Christie’s administration used in determining which school construction projects to fund using taxpayer dollars.
The Christie administration this week released a list of private and public universities it intends to help using money from a voter-approved bond. The list included private religious schools, such as Beth Medrash Govoha, an all-male, orthodox Jewish rabbinical school in Lakewood and Princeton Theological Seminary, which trains male and female Christian ministers.
“State funding of some of these projects raises constitutional concerns that must be addressed,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “The legislature should reject this funding proposal until Gov. Christie sheds more light on the criteria the state used in selecting which schools and projects to fund, and assures the public that government funding is not used to support programs that discriminate.”
Beth Medrash Govoha received $10.6 million to build a new library and academic center and Princeton Theological Seminary received $645,313 to improve the technology infrastructure of its library and other technological projects.
In addition to asking the state to provide the guidelines it used in making its funding decision, the ACLU-NJ is also seeking any applications the private institutions submitted to the state requesting the money.
NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) argued today in New Jersey Supreme Court that a defendant has a right to waive his appearance at a sentencing hearing.
“A sentencing hearing is a critical stage of the trial process where a judge is given information to determine an appropriate sentence,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Alexander Shalom, who argued the ACLU-NJ’s position. “The hearing, however, is not intended to be punitive in and of itself.”
The victim’s mother in the case, Michelle Ruggieri has asked the court to compel the defendant, Guiseppe Tedesco to appear in court. The ACLU-NJ filed a friend-of-the court brief in State v. Guiseppe Tedesco, arguing that the Crime Victim’s Bill of Rights provides victims with the opportunity to address the court at sentencing, but it does not provide the right to address the defendant.
“A defendant’s absence from a sentencing in no way diminishes the family’s ability to meaningfully participate in the process,” states the ACLU-NJ brief. “Simply put, a court cannot compel the defendant’s presence at the sentencing hearing at the victim’s behest in order to force the defendant to atone for his wrongful acts and be subjected to the opprobrium of the court for his devastating actions prior to the imposition of sentence.”
NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) filed a petition with the state Department of Education against the Cape May County Special Services School District, a public school district, for segregating students with multiple disabilities based on sex. The petition was filed on behalf of Susan Coll-Guedes, an Atlantic County parent who wanted her son to be placed in a co-educational class because she believes he excels academically and socially in an integrated environment.
For the past several years, the district has provided co-educational classes in all grades for students with multiple disabilities, except for grades six through eight.
“Like any parent, I want my child to be in a nurturing learning environment that is conducive to his education,” said Coll-Guedes. “I believe my son should be in an environment that reflects society and prepares him to be comfortable and confident when interacting with others, including girls.”
Coll-Guedes’s 12-year-old son has attended Ocean Academy in the Cape May County Special Services School District since pre-kindergarten. When he reached sixth grade, she requested that he have classes with girls. The district refused and even rejected compromises, such as having time to interact in the hall with girls.
Coll-Guedes turned to the ACLU-NJ for help. The organization filed a public records request, seeking the district’s policies on single sex classes. The district claimed it did not have any polices segregating students based on sex and instead placed students based on “age, disability and level of functioning.” The complaint alleges that it is not plausible that the school district has made an individualized assessment of all sixth through eighth graders with multiple disabilities that has resulted in sex-segregated classes at Ocean Academy year after year.
“The law requires that all children should have equal access to educational programs, regardless of their sex,” said Frank Corrado, an attorney with Barry, Corrado & Grassi, who, along with ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero, represents Coll-Guedes. “Segregating students is a violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and it limits opportunities for boys and girls alike.”
Coll-Guedes decided to keep her son back in the fifth grade coeducational class for the current school year. The petition has been filed with the Department of Education, which is expected to transmit it to the Office of Administrative Law for a disposition.
On May 15, the ACLU-NJ withdrew the complaint and submitted a letter to the New Jersey Department of Education and New Jersey Division of Civil Rights, asking officials to investigate the segregation of students at Ocean Academy based on sex.
NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) and the Rutgers Constitutional Litigation Clinic submitted a letter to the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) yesterday, asking it to be more transparent and to include opportunities for public input in its plans to disburse federal funds for Hurricane Sandy relief.
They also called for a thorough assessment of the special needs of low and moderate income households and communities of color created by Sandy, as well as the effect of planning decisions on those communities, as required by the regulations governing disbursement of federal disaster relief funds.
The DCA released a draft of its plan to the public on March 13, but only gave the public seven days to review or submit comments on the plan. But the state did not schedule any public hearings on the plan, nor does it have a strategy to include public input in the future.
“This plan will have a long-lasting impact on New Jersey residents across the state, and across economic, racial and ethnic lines,” said Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU-NJ. “The public has a vested interest in reviewing the plan thoroughly and providing its input on decisions that will affect them. Any plan must also consider the disproportionate hardship imposed upon economically disadvantaged communities. We all share collective responsibility for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of communities affected by natural disasters.”
Ronald K. Chen of the Rutgers Constitutional Litigation Clinic, said he recognizes that time is critical in making sure that relief is distributed to help those in need.
“On balance, asking for additional time for the public to review the plan would not seriously impair the interest to help New Jersey residents and provide relief,” said Chen. “This is an enormous undertaking and we all share the goal of developing a plan that is sustainable and boosts the long-term viability of the state.
The ACLU-NJ and Fair Share Housing Center (FSHC), which also submitted a letter to the state, are also concerned that a disproportionate amount of the federal funds will go to homeowners, rather than renters. This includes relief funds to relocate renters and for any property they lost during the storm.
|Linda Richardson with her daughter
Shaina Harris in front of Burger King
NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) has filed suit against the Borough of Wanaque after its police department issued a citation to a teenager for violating its juvenile curfew ordinance.
Shaina Harris, 17, was given the citation after she walked to a Burger King located across the street from her home around 11 p.m. on Sept. 22, 2012. Harris had parental permission to visit the restaurant to buy a milkshake.
“Wanaque’s curfew is an assault on the basic constitutional rights of juveniles in the borough to come and go as they please with their parents’ consent,” said Edward Kiel, an attorney in the Hackensack law firm of Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard, who is handling the case for the ACLU-NJ. “These curfews wrongfully punish law-abiding people just trying to go about their daily lives freely, like our client.”
Wanaque’s curfew prohibits any juvenile from being in a public location in the town from 10 p.m. to 5:30 a.m., unless they satisfy one of several narrow exceptions set forth in the curfew ordinance.
Harris received her GED at age 16 and was already attending community college at the time of the incident. The Burger King she visited is directly across the street from where the family mailbox is located and garbage is collected.
When Harris walked back from the fast food chain, an officer stopped her near her family’s mailbox and asked why she was outside without adult supervision. Harris called her stepfather, who came immediately. The officer issued Harris a citation for violating the borough’s curfew. The citation carries a $100 fine and potential for 15 hours of community service.
“I was really surprised,” she said. “I had permission from my parents to go out and didn’t realize the police could write me up for something as harmless as walking across the street to Burger King.”
The ACLU-NJ recently represented Harris in municipal court where the court postponed the municipal hearing so that today’s lawsuit challenging the ordinance could be filed.
“I think parents are the ones who should determine and set curfews for their children, not the borough,” said Linda Richardson, the plaintiff in the case on behalf of her daughter. “My daughter already attends college; I trust her to walk across the street to Burger King.”
The ACLU-NJ has challenged juvenile curfews in the past. In 1999, it won an injunction preventing West New York from enforcing its curfew, which prohibited anyone under the age of 18 from being in a public place from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., unless accompanied by their parent or guardian. In 2004, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court upheld the 1999 injunction and ruled that West New York’s ordinance was unconstitutional. The court also recognized there was a “strong constitutional presumption in favor of parental authority over government authority.”
“Criminalizing ordinary, harmless teenage behavior shifts valuable and limited police resources away from crime prevention,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “This juvenile curfew law does not protect communities, but instead needlessly funnels young people into the criminal justice system.”
The lawsuit Richardson v. Borough of Wanaque was filed in Superior Court in Passaic County.
Attorneys David Kohane and David Gold of the Hackensack law firm of Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard are also representing Harris.