ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer Receives Rider University Award

October 29, 2013
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Udi Ofer

LAWRENCEVILLE – Rider University’s Law and Justice Program honored ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer on Oct. 29 for his contributions to expanding and defending civil liberties. The award is given annually to a person or organization who Rider believes exemplifies the values and qualities the school would like students to emulate as they pursue careers in law-related fields.

Previous honorees include the Honorable Deborah T. Poritz, former chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, Amnesty International USA and Patrick Budd, executive director of New Jersey Legal Services.

“I am honored to receive this distinguished award,” said Ofer. “New Jersey is a fertile battleground for a number of pressing civil rights issues and I am thrilled to play a role in moving freedom forward for all residents in the Garden State.”

Ofer delivered the 18th annual Distinguished Contributions to Law & Justice Award Lecture today at Rider University. The title of the lecture was, “50 Years After the Dream: The Struggle for Equality Continues.”

Ofer joined the ACLU of New Jersey in February. Under his leadership, the ACLU-NJ was one of the founding organizations of the coalition, New Jersey United for Marriage, which fought to bring marriage equality to New Jersey. The ACLU-NJ has also successfully advocated for increased transparency in stop-and-frisk practices by the Newark Police Department, and for greater protections of immigrants’ rights in Newark.

Before joining the ACLU-NJ, he was the director of advocacy for the New York Civil Liberties Union, where he led successful campaigns in areas such as police accountability, racial justice and students’ rights. In 2004, the New York City Council honored Ofer for his outstanding service to the city.

Ofer graduated from Fordham University School of Law and the State University of New York at Buffalo. He began his legal career as a Skadden Fellow and staff attorney representing domestic violence victims. From 2010-2012, he was an adjunct professor at New York Law School. In 2007, he received the “Distinguished Graduate Award” from Fordham Law School.

ACLU Statement on the Passing of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg

June 3, 2013
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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.”

ACLU-NJ Names New Executive Director

February 5, 2013
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Udi Ofer, who challenged NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk and over-policing of schools as NYCLU advocacy director, will lead New Jersey affiliate

NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) is pleased to announce that Udi Ofer, the advocacy director of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), will lead the organization as executive director starting Feb. 19.

“I am thrilled and honored to be a part of the ACLU of New Jersey, which is one of the strongest ACLU affiliates in the country and has an incredible history of advancing and protecting civil rights and civil liberties,” said Ofer, 38. “My goal will be to build on the work of the ACLU of New Jersey in the courtrooms, on the streets, and in the halls of the legislatures to defend and advance the rights and freedoms of all New Jersey residents. I will work tirelessly to elevate the voices of the 15,000 ACLU members who call New Jersey home.”

Ofer has been with the NYCLU since 2003, joining as the director of the New York Bill of Rights Defense Campaign, which focused on civil liberties and national security issues. In 2004, the New York City Council honored the campaign for its outstanding service to the city and state.

In 2008, he founded the advocacy department of the NYCLU, which has been recognized nationally for its creative and integrated advocacy.

Ofer oversaw major grassroots victories during his tenure at the NYCLU, particularly in the areas of racial justice, police accountability, immigrants’ rights and students’ rights. He documented the impact of and challenged zero-tolerance school discipline policies and policing of public schools. He spearheaded the movement to pass one of the nation’s most comprehensive reporting laws on arrests and suspensions in schools through the New York City Council. He also exposed and reformed the discriminatory practices of school districts in New York state that demanded proof of immigration status from families attempting to enroll their children in public schools.

Ofer has also led the NYCLU’s policy efforts to reform the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices by pushing for groundbreaking legislation that would ban racial profiling, institute protections against unlawful stops and searches, and create an NYPD Inspector General’s Office.

“Udi has been a forceful and vocal defender of civil liberties in New York, and his gifts as an advocate will be a great asset to New Jersey,” said Frank Corrado, president of the ACLU-NJ Board of Trustees. “He is a visionary, and we are very excited to see where he takes the ACLU of New Jersey with his passion and talent.”

Born in Israel, Ofer settled in the United States at the age of 10 with his family, an experience that led him to become an advocate for others. His childhood in Brooklyn instilled in Ofer a love for American values and traditions, as well as a sense of compassion for the hurdles faced by anyone considered outside of the mainstream. Out of his personal history grew a desire to fight for the rights of members of society who disproportionately find their rights denied.

He attended University at Buffalo, where he received his bachelor’s degree in political science and international studies in 1997. Ofer received his law degree from Fordham University School of Law in 2001 and in 2007 received the “Distinguished Graduate Award” from its Stein Scholars Program.

After graduating from law school Ofer received a Skadden Fellowship to work as a staff attorney at My Sisters’ Place in Westchester County. There, he represented women and advocated on their behalf, helping victims of abuse navigate their way through the immigration and public benefits systems.

Ofer, who has lived in New Jersey previously, said he looks forward to learning more about the state in-depth as he meets with ACLU-NJ members, allied organizations, and legislators.

“New Jersey is one of the most exciting and dynamic states for defending constitutional rights,” said Ofer. “Its diversity – both in population and geography – offers unique opportunities to promote and defend civil liberties and civil rights as new challenges emerge.”

In addition to his work at the NYCLU, Ofer is also an adjunct professor at New York Law School, where he teaches a course on public policy and social change. He will replace the ACLU-NJ’s previous executive director, Deborah Jacobs, who left in July after leading the ACLU-NJ for 13 years to become Vice President for Advocacy and Policy at the Ms. Foundation in Brooklyn.

Deborah Jacobs, Executive Director of the ACLU-NJ, Will Step Down to Mobilize Advocacy for Women Nationally

May 29, 2012
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Jacobs leaving ACLU-NJ after 13 years to form policy and advocacy agenda at Brooklyn-based Ms. Foundation for Women

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ACLU-NJ Executive Director
Deborah Jacobs

Leaving behind a record of reform in police practices, open government and countless other civil liberties issues, ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs plans to step down from the organization on July 3. Jacobs is leaving to become Vice President for Advocacy and Policy at the Ms. Foundation for Women, where she will develop national strategies and expertise to advance gender equality.

“New Jersey is a uniquely challenging and deeply rewarding place to fight for civil liberties, and I’ll miss every part of it,” said Jacobs. “However, I'm thrilled to direct my energies into much-needed advocacy for women and girls. Especially now, as women come under intense attack from so many corners of politics and society.”

Frank Corrado, president of the ACLU-NJ Board of Trustees, praised Jacobs’ leadership in the state and the organization.

“Since coming to New Jersey, Deborah has been one of the boldest, most passionate and most respected advocates in the Garden State,” said Corrado. “She has been an unwavering guardian of civil rights, and has never been afraid to stand up for what’s right, even if it seemed unpopular at the time. Often, those unpopular stances proved to be correct. She has built the ACLU-NJ into the state’s most effective civil rights organization by establishing a presence in the streets, in the Statehouse and at community events statewide. We wish her well, but we will miss her dearly.”

Under Jacobs’ leadership, the ACLU-NJ flourished to become one of the largest ACLU affiliates in the nation, more than tripling its staff from four to 14 and swelling the budget from $200,000 to nearly $2 million. She marshaled resources for programs with redoubled focus on racial justice, voting rights, police practices and open government.

During Jacobs’ early years in New Jersey, the ACLU-NJ secured major victories to stop racial profiling, monitoring the state police's progress under a federal consent decree and bringing successful lawsuits on behalf of victims of racial profiling by state and local police departments.

In 2001, the ACLU-NJ brought the first legal challenges in the nation to secret detention and deportation hearings of immigrants after the Sept. 11 attacks. Jacobs also quickly deployed staff on the ground in New Jersey’s diverse immigrant communities, who faced new government scrutiny and forms of discrimination.

Recognizing police misconduct as among the most direct and brutal of civil liberties violations, Jacobs became the state's leading advocate for statewide reforms and a recognized expert in police practices. In 2010, the ACLU-NJ painstakingly documented patterns of abuse and misconduct in the long-troubled Newark Police Department, the state’s largest municipal police force, and presented the data in a petition seeking the Department of Justice’s intervention. In 2011, the Department of Justice announced that it would investigate the Newark Police.

Jacobs' exit comes on the heels of two significant victories. An ACLU-NJ lawsuit in May halted the Motor Vehicle Commission’s TRU-ID, an invasive, costly new driver’s license program imposed on citizens without any public scrutiny, in violation of state law. The ACLU-NJ also negotiated an agreement in May to dramatically overhaul Passaic County Jail, which promises both prisoners and inmates more humane conditions at what was considered for three decades one of the most notorious jails in the U.S.

"Deborah Jacobs leaves behind a long list of accomplishments and victories," said ACLU National Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "She's a force to be reckoned with, a talented leader, and a visionary who gives energy to any movement she's a part of. The ACLU-NJ says goodbye for now to a canny, valued leader, but the Ms. Foundation gains a disciplined, dedicated activist with a talent for making the world a better place."

Jacobs started her career at the ACLU in 1992 as a junior staffer at the ACLU of Washington, in Seattle, where she directed intake and managed volunteers. In 1996, she rose to become head of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, in St. Louis, becoming the youngest executive director of a state ACLU affiliate.

“I have loved every minute of my time at the ACLU,” said Jacobs. “The ACLU is in my DNA and its principles are the lifeblood of democracy. I will never take for granted my good fortune of leading such an exciting organization with so much potential to affect people’s lives. I feel gratified knowing that in my new role I’ll still work toward greater justice in society, but for a particularly vulnerable part of the population on a national scale.”

Jacobs grew up in Ellensburg, WA. She holds a B.A. in English literature and an M.A. in liberal studies from Skidmore College. In 1990, she was awarded a Fulbright grant to study in Helsinki, Finland.

ACLU Statement on the Passing of U.S. Rep. Donald Payne

March 6, 2012
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ACLU-NJ Executive Director
Deborah Jacobs &
Rep. Donald Payne in 2006

NEWARK — The ACLU of New Jersey is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of U.S. Rep. Donald Payne. New Jersey has lost a staunch defender of civil liberties in the state and the country. Throughout his distinguished career, Rep. Payne stood for causes that were not always popular – the true hallmark of a civil libertarian. He stood firm for his principles in voting against measures to make the Patriot Act permanent, to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman and to prohibit flag desecration.

“Rep. Payne was a true champion of the disaffected and the underrepresented populations of our country,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. “He was a principled leader whose legacy will live on in the freedoms that we enjoy. We were proud to have Congressman Payne represent New Jersey and remain grateful for his many years of public service.”

"Donald Payne was a forward thinking civil libertarian in the Congress who voted against making the Patriot Act permanent and supported employment non-discrimination for the LGBT community and championed the reproductive rights of women," said Laura Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. "Overall he was one of our reliable and outspoken leaders on civil rights and civil liberties. We will miss his gracious and open demeanor in what has become a difficult and hyper-partisan environment in Washington."

Gov. Christie Earns Mixed Marks on Civil Liberties During His First Two Years

January 24, 2012
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ACLU-NJ examines Christie’s record on respecting rights

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NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) released a midterm report card for Gov. Chris Christie today (182k PDF), issuing mostly low marks for his administration’s handling of critical civil liberties issues such as reproductive freedom and free speech.

The report card examines Christie’s record on an array of civil liberties issues during his first two years in office. The ACLU-NJ issued a similar report card for Newark Mayor Cory Booker (229k PDF) in 2009 during his first term in office.

“Christie has two years to turn a mediocre civil liberties record into a testament to individual rights,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. “The people of New Jersey expect a leader who will stand up for their freedoms, not one who will let them know that despite his unfair policies, his heart is in the right place. It’s time for Gov. Christie’s good intentions to turn into policies that strengthen our rights and improve our lives.”

The ACLU-NJ issued the following grades:

  • B in Freedom of Religion. Gov. Christie made headlines several times in his first term for defending the religious freedom of Muslims and warning against extremists trying to promote discrimination against Islam.

  • F in Freedom of Speech. When provided the opportunity to speak up for our nation’s most fundamental value, the Governor stood idly by, letting the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs trample the rights of Occupy Trenton, and going so far as to endorse the termination of a NJ Transit employee fired for exercising his right to free expression.

  • B- in LGBT Rights. Although the Governor has spoken out against bullying and supported some interests of the LGBT community, he has turned his back on marriage equality for same-sex couples.

  • D in Open Government. Although the Governor signed a bill that lowers the cost of copies in New Jersey, his administration has put itself on the wrong side of open government disputes numerous times, allowing agencies to hide public documents and forcing citizens to go to court to get them.

  • C in Police Practices. Improvements made by the Office of Attorney General (OAG) to its statewide police Internal Affairs policies were a step forward, but the OAG has failed to address other important issues, such as developing a statewide policy on the use of confidential informants.

  • C in Privacy Rights. The governor conditionally vetoed a bill that sought to open adoption records, taking into account the privacy rights of birth parents. At the same time, he signed into a law a bill that allows police to collect DNA of people once they have been arrested in violation of privacy and due process rights.

  • F in Reproductive Rights. Not only did the governor cut $7.5 million from the budget for family planning centers, but he also withdrew an application for a federal program that would have covered family planning expenses for some of New Jersey’s most vulnerable women and children.

  • D in Separation of Powers. The Governor refused to reappoint New Jersey Supreme Court Justice John J. Wallace, Jr., calling into question the tradition of evaluating judges based on merits, and personally attacked a Superior Court judge because he disagreed with the outcome of her ruling. Gov. Christie’s actions threaten to undermine the judiciary’s independence and credibility.

ACLU-NJ Celebrates 50 Years on the Front Lines of Freedom

June 16, 2010
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Newark, N.J. - For five decades, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has been a gale force in the most critical social debates of our time and a vigilant guardian of civil rights for all.

In June, the ACLU-NJ will mark the 50th anniversary of its founding and celebrate its standing as one of the largest and most active affiliates in the nation. Created to counter the growing pressures on civil liberties in the state, the affiliate's first official meeting took place on the night of June 16, 1960. Since its start, the affiliate, which has continued to keep its headquarters in Newark, has seen its membership multiply nearly 10-fold, from 1,600 people to more than 15,000.

"We believe that the liberties in the Bill of Rights belong to every American, to all the people in New Jersey regardless of their political beliefs, race, religion or national origin," ACLU-NJ founder and longtime President Emil Oxfeld said in the original press release announcing the formation of the state's affiliate. "We believe these freedoms must be exercised if democracy in our state is to grow and thrive."

Oxfeld went on to list issues that desperately needed attention at the time - due process, racial discrimination, the separation of church and state, and freedom from censorship - all principles the ACLU still defends daily.

"While some of the issues raised in our cases over the years seem archaic by today's standards, many haven't changed at all," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs, who has led the affiliate since 1999, including during the biggest membership spike in its history. "The law has advanced remarkably in areas like women's rights, lesbian and gay rights, and safeguarding personal privacy, but with issues like free speech, police practices and religious freedom, no fight ever stays won."

"The ACLU of New Jersey has been a leader in the crucial civil liberties battles of our time," said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the national ACLU. "While each new era brings a wave of assaults on freedom, the ACLU of New Jersey responds swiftly and decisively, protecting the rights of all Garden State residents. It has proven its value on the American political landscape."

Since opening its doors and springing into action - its first official undertaking was commending the Clifton Library's stance against banning books like Lady Chatterley's Lover - the ACLU-NJ has doggedly worked for justice and equality in New Jersey.

In its first decade the ACLU-NJ took strong action following the 1967 Newark Rebellion. Staffers took to the streets in the aftermath, painstakingly cataloguing police abuses to the ACLU-NJ would refer to in its demands for reform. The New Jersey affiliate also emerged even more progressive than the national ACLU, becoming one of the first state affiliates to take a stand against the Vietnam War.

Since those early years, the ACLU-NJ has grown into one of the country's largest and most active state affiliates, with a record of milestones that has earned it a role on the national stage. Among its accomplishments, the ACLU-NJ:

  • Defended the rights of women in schools, from a tennis star (represented by Ruth Bader Ginsburg) who won the right to play on the high school boys' tennis team, to the Princeton student who turned its Ivy League all-male eating clubs co-ed.
  • Blocked a bill requiring a "one-minute period of silence" for prayer in public schools in 1983.
  • Defended 12 motorists who had been racially profiled on the New Jersey Turnpike in the late 1990s.
  • Propelled New Jersey to become the first state in the nation to grant equal standing to gay and lesbian couples jointly adopting in 1997.
  • Successfully challenged the state's ban on late-term abortion in 1998 and a law requiring parents to sign off on a minor's abortion in 2000.
  • Challenged secret detentions and organized locally, fending off attempts to chip away at individual rights following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
  • Defeated local laws written to exclude immigrants from housing, won humane working conditions for immigrants, and helped enforce the rights of young immigrants to attend public school.
  • Established stronger First Amendment protections in schools and malls, as well as developments run by homeowners associations.

The ACLU-NJ is celebrating the clients, attorneys, leaders and volunteers - many involved in the cases highlighted above - who have built its legacy, from its founders to its future. The stories of these 50 Faces of Liberty can be found at the ACLU-NJ website, http://www.aclu-nj.org

"Society has changed dramatically since our founding, but we've never lost the fire that fuels the ACLU's advocacy," Jacobs added. "We can't always predict what challenges lie ahead for liberty in a changing world, but whatever they are, the ACLU stands ready to defend the fundamental rights of ordinary Americans."

The year-long commemoration will culminate November 4 at the NJ Freedom Fest: A night of laughter and liberties, hosted by comedian Jimmy Tingle and featuring faces from the ACLU past and present, to be held at the Heldrich Hotel in New Brunswick.

ACLU-NJ Bestowing Highest Honor to Poritz

November 6, 2007
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Chief Justice Poritz

New Brunswick, N.J. -- The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey will award its highest honor to Chief Justice Deborah Poritz tonight at its annual U.S. Supreme Court Briefing.

"Chief Justice Poritz has demonstrated a commitment to equality through her opinions on abortion rights and same sex marriage," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. "Although the ACLU has not always agreed with her positions, we recognize her thoughtful approach to constitutional rights."

Named after the founder of the ACLU, the Roger N. Baldwin award recognizes outstanding contributions to the preservation and promotion of civil liberties. In years past it has been awarded to national luminaries such as Justice William Brennan, Gloria Steinem and Cornel West, and New Jersey legal achievers such as Frank Askin, Ronald Chen and Larry Lustberg.

Poritz, nominated by former Governor Christine Todd Whitman, served as Attorney General of New Jersey from 1994 to 1996. Whitman appointed her Chief Justice for the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1996, a position she held until retirement in 2006. Poritz was the first woman to serve in both positions.

"I am honored to receive the Roger Baldwin Award from an organization I respect and admire." Said Poritz. "By raising issues that involve fundamental constitutional rights, the ACLU performs a critical function in our legal system."

In Planned Parenthood v. Farmer, brought by the ACLU, Poritz held that the Parental Notification for Abortion Act was an unconstitutional violation of equal protection because the state did not provide adequate justification for distinguishing between minors seeking an abortion and minors seeking other pregnancy related medical care.

In Lewis v. Harris, Poritz dissented from the majority of justices who ruled that the state could preclude same-sex couples from marriage so long as the state provides a parallel structure of rights. Poritz wrote: "We must not underestimate the power of language. Labels set people apart as surely as physical separation on a bus or in school facilities. Labels are used to perpetuate prejudice about differences that, in this case, are embedded in the law. By excluding same-sex couples from civil marriage, the State declares that it is legitimate to differentiate between their commitments and the commitments of heterosexual couples. Ultimately, the message is that what same-sex couples have is not as important or as significant as 'real' marriage, that such lesser relationships cannot have the name of marriage."

In addition to the presentation of the award to Poritz, the event will feature Steven Shapiro, Legal Director for the National ACLU, who will highlight critical civil liberties issues before the U.S. Supreme Court this term. The ACLU appears before the U.S. Supreme Court more than any other individual or organization aside from the U.S. government itself. With such a relationship, the ACLU has a unique perspective on the inner workings and the broad implications of the Court's actions.

Following Shapiro's presentation, both he and Poritz will field questions on the courts.