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:
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.
Newark - The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the Seton Hall Center for Social Justice today submitted a brief on behalf of the New Jersey Urban Mayors' Association in a long-running school funding lawsuit before the New Jersey Supreme Court. The brief challenges the state's changes to its education funding formula, which now places the burden to fund education back on municipalities that cannot afford to adequately fund education on their own. The changes disproportionately harm minorities and poor families, who suffer most from these changes.
"The state is asking struggling municipalities to choose between the future of their communities and the future of their children," said Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith, President of the Urban Mayors' Association. "That is exactly the untenable choice the court sought to prohibit."
In the 1990 case Abbott v. Burke (Abbott II), the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the state had failed to provide all students with a "thorough and efficient" education required by the New Jersey Constitution. Because school funding was linked to property taxes, and because many municipalities suffered from "municipal overburden," requiring them to spend a much larger percentage of their taxes on municipal services than wealthier suburban districts, municipal taxes alone could not adequately fund education in those municipalities. The Court then required the state to supplement funding in the most overburdened districts.
However, the state is now trying to change the basic funding structure that has been in place since the Abbott II decision to make overburdened municipalities pay for more education costs themselves. The brief submitted today on behalf of the Urban Mayors' Association explains that the problem of "municipal overburden" still exists just as it did when Abbott II was decided. In fact, the current high rate of home foreclosures and tax abatements in cities has made the burden worse because these circumstances affect property values and property taxes disproportionately in urban areas.
"The communities that are already the most burdened are the ones who will suffer even more from the state's changes," said Emily Goldberg of the Seton Hall Center for Social Justice. "The Abbott districts must spend significantly more than other districts on municipal services like fire and police, while at the same time their property values are lower. Residents of the Abbott districts therefore already pay higher taxes than most other residents in New Jersey."
Newark, NJ - The ACLU-NJ praised lawmakers today as Governor Jon Corzine signed a measure to end capital punishment in the state of New Jersey. The bill, which passed the state legislature last week with bipartisan majorities, replaces the death penalty with life imprisonment without possibility of parole. New Jersey is the first state since 1965 to legislatively repeal the death penalty.
"The death penalty is an archaic, inhumane and ineffective practice that most nations abandoned long ago" says ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. "It has proven fundamentally unfair and discriminatory, too often resulting in the execution of innocent people."
The bill was introduced in November after the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission concluded that capital punishment does not deter crime. The Commission found that capital punishment is "inconsistent with evolving standards of decency."
In addition to lawmakers, Jacobs acknowledged the tireless work of death penalty opponents, including the remarkable leadership of the New Jersey Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and ACLU members from across New Jersey who lobbied their representatives in support of abolishment.
Gov. Corzine specifically thanked the ACLU for its dedication to this important issue. "I also want to thank advocacy groups, particularly . . . the ACLU and there are many other groups that joined in this process and I am eternally grateful," said Corzine.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment, New Jersey joins 13 states and the District of Columbia that do not use execution as a means of punishment.
"This is historic progress towards the end this cruel and futile punishment," says Jacobs. "We hope it will generate momentum in the campaign to end capital punishment nationwide."
The legislation (S171/A3716) was sponsored in the Senate by Senator Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union), Senator Robert J. Martin (R-Morris/Passaic), Senator Shirley K. Turner (D-Mercer) and Senator Nia H. Gill (D-Essex/Passaic). It was sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo (D-Essex/Union), Assemblyman Christopher Bateman (R-Morris/Somerset), Assemblyman Gordon M. Johnson (D-Bergen), Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) and Assemblywoman Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-Camden/Gloucester).
NEWARK, N.J. -- The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the Farmworkers' Support Committee announced today that the City of Bridgeton has agreed to settle a federal lawsuit brought by the groups.
The ACLU-NJ and the Farmworkers' Support Committee, also known as El Comité de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas, or CATA, filed a lawsuit on July 9, 2007, against Bridgeton for charging a fee of more than $1,500 for an immigrants rights march held on May 1.
In the settlement, Bridgeton agreed not to collect any fees for the May 1 march or impose any fees for marches or other free speech activities in the city's public forums under its existing ordinances and policies.
"We're pleased that the city backed off of its unjustifiable position," said Frank Corrado, who on behalf of the ACLU-NJ is the volunteer attorney for CATA. "It clearly didn't have the authority to impose such fees on free speech activities."
The city retained the right to adopt new ordinances that regulated such activities. CATA retained the right to challenge such an ordinance if they believe it to be unconstitutional or otherwise invalid.
"We will closely monitor any proposed ordinances to ensure that the city does not unfairly burden the rights of immigrants - or anyone - to engage in free speech activities," said Nelson Carrasquillo, CATA Executive Director.
The lawsuit, CATA v. Bridgeton, was filed in U.S. District Court in Camden.
More information on CATA is available at http://www.cata-farmworkers.org
| Los oficiales locales impusieron una multa inconstitucional de mas
de $1.500 a CATA, los organizadores de esta marcha que ocurrió
el 1 de mayo del 2007 en Bridgeton, NJ. Foto de David Bacon
NEWARK, N.J. -- La Unión Americana de Libertades Civiles de Nueva Jersey (ACLU-NJ) y el Comité de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agrícolas (CATA) y demandaron en el corte distrito federal a la ciudad de Bridgeton para cobrarles una tarifa de mas que $1,500 por una marcha por los derechos de los inmigrantes realizado el 1ero de mayo.
Esta tarifa se aproxima a un impuesto de usuario por la libertad de expresión y eso es inconstitucional," dijo Frank Corrado quien, de parte del ACLU-NJ, es el abogado voluntario para CATA. "Bridgeton es responsable para proveer policía y otros servicios gubernamentales para todo uso de sus calles publicas, incluyendo para marchas y desfiles. Imposición de estas tarifas significará que solo los ricos tendrán el derecho a expresarse, y nuestro Constitución agraciadamente lo prohíbe."
Este año, como el año pasado, CATA organizó una Marcha de Derechos de los Inmigrantes en Bridgeton para expresar apoyo para la reforma migratoria.
En 2006, la marcha de CATA no fue cobrada ninguna tarifa para policía o limpieza. Como el año pasado, CATA aplico por un permiso y trabajo con la policía y la ciudad para determinar la ruta. Ambos años, la marcha se realizo sin incidente alguno.
Pero, este año, Bridgeton demando una tarifa de $1,800 para la policía y un depósito de $200 para limpieza. Después de negociaciones entre CATA, la ACLU-NJ, y Bridgeton, la ciudad se acordó no requerir que las tarifas sean pagadas antes de la marcha, pero agrego que enviaría la cuenta a CATA después de la marcha.
Varias semanas después de la marcha del 1 de mayo, CATA recibió una carta de la ciudad solicitando pago para gastos "adicionales" de policía para la actividad, sumando a más de $1,500. CATA solicito que se retirara la cuenta, pero en una carta recibida el 12 de junio, 2007, la ciudad dijo que perseguiría exigencia de pago y más que continuaría a buscar tal reembolso en el futuro.
"No le encuentro el valor que lo usa para prohibir los derechos que tenemos todos los que vivimos en este gran país a la libre expresión." dijo Mariza Ibarra, miembro de la Junta Directiva de CATA y residente de Bridgeton, "...somos una parte vulnerable de la población y solo estamos luchando para obtener la dignidad de vivir en este mundo como Dios quiere y esta Nación pregona."
En su demanda legal, el ACLU-NJ, en representación de CATA, dijo que oficiales de Bridgeton practicaron "discreción arbitraria y ilimitada" en facturar a CATA para los gastos de la policía dado que la ciudad no tiene una ordenanza que autorice imponer tarifas para marchas o desfiles.
CATA origino en 1975 como un proyecto de Trabajadores Agrícolas de ACLU-NJ. Después, CATA se re-organizo independientemente como una organización propia de membresía de trabajadores migrantes que lucha para los derechos humanos de trabajadores migrantes y inmigrantes. Actualmente CATA tiene membresía extensa por el sur de New Jersey y un comité de líderes activos en Bridgeton que organizaron ambas marchas y otras actividades en la comunidad.
La demanda, CATA v. Bridgeton, fue sometida en la Corte Federal en Camden.
La queja esta disponible en línea a: http://www.aclu-nj.org
Más información de CATA esta disponible a: http://www.cata-farmworkers.org
| Local officials imposed an unconstitutional police fee of more than $1,500
on CATA, the organizers of this May 1, 2007 march in Bridgeton, N.J.
Photo by David Bacon
NEWARK, N.J. -- The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the Farmworkers' Support Committee today filed a lawsuit in federal district court against the City of Bridgeton for charging a fee of more than $1,500 for an immigrant rights March held on May 1.
"This fee amounts to a user's tax on free speech and that is unconstitutional," said Frank Corrado, who on behalf of the ACLU-NJ is the volunteer attorney for the Farmworkers' Support Committee, also known as El Comité de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas or CATA. "Bridgeton is responsible for providing police and other government services for all forms of use of its public streets, including marches or parades. Imposition of these fees will mean that only the wealthy will be afforded the right to speak out on issues, and our Constitution thankfully forbids that."
This year, as last year, CATA held an immigrant rights March on May 1 in Bridgeton to express support for immigration reform.
In 2006, CATA's march was not charged any police or cleanup fees. As it did last year, CATA this year applied for a permit and worked with the police and the city to determine the route. Both years, the march occurred without incident.
However, this year Bridgeton demanded a $1,800 police fee and a $200 cleanup deposit. After negotiations between CATA and Bridgeton, the city agreed to drop its requirement that fees be paid prior to the march but added that it would bill CATA after the march.
Several weeks after the May 1 march, CATA received a letter from the city requesting payment for "additional" police expenses for the event, amounting to more than $1,500. CATA requested that the fees be withdrawn, but in a June 12, 2007 letter responding to the group, the city said that it would pursue its demand for the payment and, moreover, would continue to seek such reimbursement in the future.
"I don't see the logic the city of Bridgeton is using in prohibiting our rights to free expression that we all have living in this great country," said Mariza Ibarra, CATA board member and Bridgeton resident. "We are a vulnerable part of the population and we are only struggling to obtain dignity in this community and country."
In its legal complaint, the ACLU-NJ said Bridgeton officials exercised "unfettered, arbitrary discretion" in billing CATA for police expenses, since the city does not have an ordinance that authorizes it to impose fees for marches or parades.
CATA originated in 1975 as the ACLU-NJ Farmworkers' Project. CATA later reorganized independently as a migrant worker-organized membership organization that advocates for the human rights of migrant and immigrant workers. CATA has extensive membership throughout South Jersey and a committee of active leaders in Bridgeton that has organized both May 1 marches, as well as other activities in the community.
The lawsuit, CATA v. Bridgeton, was filed in U.S. District Court in Camden.
More information on CATA is available at http://www.cata-farmworkers.org
IRVINGTON, NJ – Thousands of New Jersey children are at risk of lead poisoning, according to a report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Association for Children of New Jersey and a coalition of advocates, and blame for the tragic state of affairs rests solidly with the lack of leadership exhibited by the state government. Yet a groundbreaking pilot study shows that there are things that can be done to increase testing and treatment.
“Before our involvement in 2000, the state paid little attention to childhood lead poisoning,” said Robin Dahlberg, an attorney with the ACLU and lead author of the report. “Although a 1996 state law requires the state’s public health department to take steps to ensure that every New Jersey child is tested for lead at the age of one and again at the age of two, the health department had done almost nothing to implement that law.”
According to the report, in 2000 the state health department had identified only one-third of the estimated 18,000 children under the age of six suffering from lead poisoning. Only 50 percent of those were receiving necessary follow-up treatment. Unable to engage the health department, the advocates went to the state’s Medicaid agency. The Medicaid agency, in turn, invited the ACLU, the Association for Children of New Jersey and others to work collaboratively to increase the lead testing of Medicaid-enrolled children.
“We are excited about the results of this pilot program that indicate that we can increase the number of children getting tested,” said Mayor Wayne Smith of Irvington, where one in every ten children under the age of six is lead-poisoned. “There is a critical need for state government to roll out the resources so that more children in Irvington and around the state can get tested.”
Despite this progress, childhood lead poisoning in New Jersey continues to be a major problem. The percentage of New Jersey children who are lead poisoned is almost twice the national average. The state health department has still not fully implemented the 1996 state law. Roughly fifty percent of all one and two year olds have not been tested for lead.
Over the last five years, the group has piloted a number of different reform efforts. It encouraged doctors to provide lead testing in their offices, trained day care center staff to educate parents and caretakers about the need to have children tested and held Medicaid Managed Care Organizations and Medicaid providers more accountable. Much of the group’s work has focused in Camden City and the Township of Irvington.
“Screening is the first step toward getting children the healthcare they need to treat the very serious health effects of childhood lead poisoning,” said Mary Coogan, assistant director of the Association for Children of New Jersey. “This pilot clearly shows we can improve our testing of children and subsequent treatment. This effort should be rolled out statewide, with active support from New Jersey's next governor.”
As a result of the coalition’s efforts:
“Many of Legal Services’ clients are the most likely to be harmed by lead poisoning and the least likely to be informed about its effects or to be capable of removing themselves from the danger,” said Linda Garibaldi of Legal Services of New Jersey. “They are families just struggling to survive whose children are often being slowly poisoned by a killer they don’t even know about.”
The ACLU, the Association for Children of New Jersey, Legal Services of New Jersey and the Office of the Child Advocate, called upon the state health department to implement the 1996 state law and to work with the state Medicaid agency to institutionalize and expand upon the reforms and changes initiated in Irvington and Camden City.
The report is entitled Preventing Childhood Lead Poisoning in New Jersey (784k PDF).