NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) announced today that it filed a lawsuit in Superior Court in Mercer County on Friday and won a court order to restrict the implementation of the state’s new TRU-ID licensing program, which was scheduled to go into effect today. The lawsuit asserts that the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) violated New Jersey’s Administrative Procedure Act, which dictates that any new rule or regulation requires, at a minimum, public notice and the chance for citizen review.
"Implementing TRU-ID without any involvement from the public isn’t just undemocratic – it’s also in violation of New Jersey laws,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas, who argued the case on behalf of the ACLU-NJ. “The State of New Jersey has infringed upon the rights of every citizen in New Jersey by deciding to radically change our ID system by fiat instead of through the democratic process.”
Prior to taking the matter to court, the ACLU-NJ attempted to address its concerns with the MVC, sending a letter (362k PDF) outlining the civil liberties, safety and cost issues with TRU-ID, requesting a meeting prior to the implementation to discuss these issues, and making an open records request (100kb PDF) for more information (which received a skeletal response [2.1mb PDF]).
On Friday, Superior Court Judge Paul Innes issued an order that restricts the MVC from requiring citizens to obtain a TRU-ID, and held that the agency must allow applicants the option of obtaining a driver's license or state ID under the 6-Point license system that has been the law in New Jersey for almost a decade. The order also prohibits the MVC from making copies of Social Security cards, birth certificates, passports or other identification documents, as the copying of records is also not authorized under current regulations.
The ACLU-NJ and the MVC are scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 3 to present oral arguments about the matter. The judge's order holds that injunction will remain in place at least until that time.
The state released minimal information about TRU-ID just a few weeks before the planned implementation. It did not seek any input from the public, legislators or stakeholders. The MVC said the new program was necessary to comply with the federal Real ID Act, which seeks to create a national identification card and make it mandatory for anyone who wants to board a commercial airline or enter a federal building. But the federal act is unenforceable - at least 25 states have opted out of Real ID, with 15 of them passing legislation making it illegal for their state governments to participate. The states saying no to Real ID may soon grow to 26; a bill rejecting Real ID implementation currently sits on Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s desk for him to sign into law.
“TRU-ID is a half-baked plan to implement the half-dead Real ID Act,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs, also the plaintiff in the lawsuit. Her current license expires June 30. "The state is trying to slip this under the radar without allowing the public the opportunity to see how much TRU-ID will cost in terms of our rights, our privacy and our wallets."
In addition to privacy concerns, the ACLU-NJ’s lawsuit also addresses the potential impact of TRU-ID on some of New Jersey’s most vulnerable communities with regard to civil rights and personal safety. The regulation’s requirement that all documents, including birth certificates, be in English imposes a burden on anyone born in a non-English speaking country. Likewise, the homeless will have difficulty proving their citizenship. In addition, it is uncertain whether there are exceptions for victims of domestic violence, who are currently allowed to use an alternate address for all state and local government purposes, rather than their actual home addresses, which could jeopardize their safety.
Although the MVC has stated it is not yet ready to start scanning documents, TRU-ID and Real ID systems require citizens to turn over copies of their personal documents to the government, which will be maintained indefinitely in a government database. Because no regulations have been released publicly, New Jerseyans have no assurance that the information maintained on the license itself or in the databases of the state government will have protection from identity thieves or other threats.
At the hearing on Friday, Judge Innes noted that the state does not have the authority to require driver's license applicants to turn over documents with their full Social Security numbers, but that that the state was now attempting to do just that under the TRU-ID system. The ACLU-NJ, the judge ruled, "has a very good likelihood of success" on the merits of its claims (1.7mb PDF).
Although the state has not shared the costs of TRU-ID with the public, the MVC said in a 2006 report that implementation of Real ID “imposes severe logistical and financial requirements” upon New Jersey. Moreover, the costs to implement Real ID may not even be necessary. In 2008, after 25 states outright refused to comply with Real ID, the Department of Homeland Security released regulations acknowledging that it could not enforce Real ID compliance.
“When the MVC rolled out its 6-Point ID verification in 2003, it bragged that the IDs met the standards of the Department of Homeland Security” said Jacobs. “We shouldn’t waste New Jersey tax dollars on a moribund program that Americans on all sides have rejected.” The case, captioned ACLU-NJ v. Martinez, is being heard in Mercer County Superior Court.
You can read the complaint (4.5mb PDF), which provides more comprehensive details about the pitfalls of TRU-ID. You can read more about the Real ID Act at the ACLU’s national site, www.realnightmare.org.
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:
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, NJ - The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) today filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of five former New Jersey Attorneys General opposing the blanket strip search policies of the Burlington County Jail and Essex County Correctional Facility. The jails' policies currently require strip searches for people charged with but not convicted of minor offenses, and even when there is no reasonable suspicion that an arrestee possesses contraband.
"Strip searching every detainee is unconstitutional, it contributes little to jail security and it creates an intolerable risk of subjecting detainees to needless humiliation," said Ed Barocas, Legal Director for the ACLU-NJ. "There is no legitimate reason for these types of policies to exist."
The amicus brief , filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on behalf of former New Jersey Attorneys General Robert J. Del Tufo, Deborah T. Poritz, John J. Farmer Jr., Peter C. Harvey and Zulima V. Farber, defends the privacy and Fourth Amendment rights of Albert Florence.
Florence filed a lawsuit in 2005 charging officials at the two jails with unconstitutionally subjecting him to two strip searches despite a lack of reasonable suspicion. The searches followed his erroneous arrest during a 2005 traffic stop for a fine he had already paid. He was ordered during the searches to squat naked and, while standing in front of prison guards, to lift his genitals.
"Being forced to strip naked is humiliating, and people charged with minor crimes shouldn't be strip searched unless there's a reason to think they're hiding something," said David Shapiro, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project.
Consistent with legal precedent, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez ruled in February 2009 that the strip search of Florence violated the Constitution. However, officials representing both Burlington and Essex Counties appealed the decision, placing the case before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
The former Attorneys General's brief notes that Judge Rodriguez's decision prevents strip searches only for non-indictable offenses that do not involve contraband and when there is no reason to suspect contraband. Additionally, his decision does not preclude strip searches following visitation.
Previous federal rulings have also banned strip searches of low-level arrestees unless jail officials can prove reasonable suspicion that the inmate may have drugs, guns or other illegal contraband. The standard of reasonable suspicion still allows prison officials to use broad discretion in determining if a strip search is necessary.
A copy of the amicus brief is available online at: http://www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/florence-v-board-chosen-freeholders-county-burlington-et-al-amicus-brief
Additional information about ACLU-NJ is available online at: http://www.aclu-nj.org
Additional information about the ACLU National Prison Project is available online at: http://www.aclu.org/prison
NEW YORK - The American Civil Liberties Union announced today its discovery that former U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Chris Christie gave approval to track people's precise whereabouts through their cell phones without a warrant.
"This is just the newest example of our privacy rights careening over the edge with federal officials drunk at the wheel," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. "Big Brother is tucked away in our cell phones, and the man behind the curtain is Chris Christie."
Justice Department documents made public today through a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation show that the government is actively taking advantage of GPS or other similarly precise technology to monitor people's coming and goings, specifically in New Jersey as well as Florida, and that it does not always obtain a search warrant beforehand.
"Tracking the location of people's cell phones reveals intimate details of their daily routines and is highly invasive of their privacy," said Catherine Crump, a staff attorney with the ACLU. "The government is violating the Constitution when it fails to get a search warrant before tracking people this way."
Although low-level courts have authorized the tracking, New Jersey and Florida are the only two known states in which federal prosecutors are obtaining court orders for GPS or similarly precise tracking information merely by showing that the tracking information is "relevant and material" to a criminal investigation - a substantially lower burden than the "probable cause" standard required by the Constitution.
The Justice Department itself has stated that federal prosecutors should seek probable cause warrants to obtain precise location data in private areas. Considering the fact that people do not even have an opportunity in court to challenge the tracking, since they are not informed of the proceedings, it's essential that the government have a sufficient legal basis before initiating this surveillance.
The ACLU wishes to participate in such proceedings as amicus curiae in the interest of defending the rights of those potentially subject to tracking.
The ACLU and EFF sued the Justice Department in July 2008 for records related to the government's use of cell phones as tracking devices. Some documents have been turned over but the lawsuit continues over additional information about the government's practices.
Attorneys on the case are Crump of the ACLU, David Sobel of EFF and Arthur Spitzer, Legal Director of the ACLU of the National Capital Area.
NEWARK, NJ -- The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) today moved to join a federal lawsuit filed against the City of Newark for disciplining a police officer who anonymously posted a message on a website that was critical of the Newark Police Department. The lawsuit also challenges the action of Newark police in improperly obtaining a subpoena to require an Internet Service Provider to turn over the identity of the then-anonymous web poster.
"Public employees have the right to speak openly about matters of public concern, and the right to do so anonymously on the web, if they choose" said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas. "In this case, the Newark Police Department violated both of those rights."
In February of 2006, the plaintiff in the case, Officer Louis Wohltman, anonymously posted messages about the integrity and competence of the Newark police department on http://www.newarkspeaks.com a website on which people engage in dialogue about local issues.
Due to the fact that Newark Police Department supervisors apparently disliked the content of the anonymous web messages they went to great -- and ultimately illegal -- lengths to uncover the identity of the web poster. Despite the fact that what Wohltman wrote did not amount to an illegal threat, the police department improperly used the criminal grand jury subpoena process to obtain Wohltman's identity. Then, the department suspended Wohltman for nine months without pay for making the critical statements.
This is the second time in as many weeks that the ACLU-NJ has become involved in a case in which the Newark Police Department allegedly tried to suppress citizens' First Amendment rights. Last week, the ACLU-NJ, along with the Seton Hall Center for Social Justice, filed a lawsuit (Lima v. Newark Police Department) against the Newark Police Department on behalf of newspaper editor Roberto Lima, whom police arrested and held in custody until he relinquished photos his staff took of a dead body found in a Newark alleyway.
The case involving Officer Louis Wohltman is captioned Wohltman v. The City of Newark, et al., and was filed in the United States District Court in Newark. The ACLU-NJ's filing today is to request permission to participate in the case as amicus curiae ("friend-of-the-court") and to provide the court with the legal context in which to analyze the facts of the case.
Louis Wohltman is directly represented by Frank Corrado of Barry, Corrado, Grassi & Gibson, as well as by Rubin Sinins of Javerbaum Wurgaft Hicks Kahn Wikstrom & Sinins.
TRENTON, N.J. -- The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today applauded Governor Jon Corzine's decision to sign a bill into law that will help ensure women's ability to access birth control at the pharmacy. The bill, sponsored by Senator Fred Madden and Assemblywoman Linda Stender, makes New Jersey one of a handful of states to protect patient's ability to access prescriptions at the pharmacy.
"Today's law strikes an important balance between protecting patient's health and religious freedom," said Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the ACLU-NJ.
The pharmacy access law requires pharmacies to fill prescriptions for in-stock drugs or devices without undue delay, despite the sincerely held moral, philosophical or religious beliefs of an individual pharmacist. Pharmacies employing pharmacists who object to filling prescriptions can accommodate the objection so long as the pharmacy ensures that customers receive their prescriptions, including birth control, at the pharmacy without undue delay.
"Access to safe and effective contraception is a central component of basic health care for women," said Jacobs. "This law will go a long way toward ending sex discrimination at the pharmacy."
The ACLU's long-held advocacy for both reproductive rights and religious liberty uniquely positions the organization to address this issue. In April, the ACLU released a report, "Religious Refusals and Reproductive Rights: Accessing Birth Control at the Pharmacy," which examines legal questions raised when a pharmacist or pharmacy refuses to provide contraception based on a religious objection.
The report is available online at: http://tinyurl.com/2pms2q
Washington, DC - Today the American Civil Liberties Union welcomed proposed legislation from Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) that would protect vital constitutional rights. The bill, "The FISA Modernization Bill of 2007," counters the Democratic leadership's "RESTORE Act," also introduced today. Both bills are attempting to fix the disastrous "Protect America Act" that was rushed through Congress in August and rubberstamped the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. The ACLU believes that Rep. Holt's bill is constitutional because, unlike the RESTORE Act, it does not include so-called basket warrants for American communications. Blanket warrants do not require individualized suspicion and are tantamount to no warrant at all.
The following can be attributed to Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:
"Representative Holt's bill addresses the administration's intelligence concerns without giving up any ground on civil liberties. It protects privacy rights by limiting the scope of surveillance to foreigners communicating with other foreigners and also demanding the destruction of any American information inadvertently obtained during intelligence gathering.
"This bill does nothing to impede government agencies working to keep us safe and does everything to restore the rights that were disregarded by the Protect America Act. In fact, it is a direct and constitutional answer to the Protect America Act. This bill ultimately proves that we can protect our country from threat and keep the Fourth Amendment intact. If it must pass something, Congress should use Representative Holt's bill as it moves forward on fixing the mistake of the Protect America Act."
To read more about the ACLU's work on FISA, go to: http://www.aclu.org/fisa
NEWARK, N.J. -- The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today praised a decision issued Friday by Morris County Superior Court Judge B. Theodore Bozenelis that protects the privacy rights of tenants.
In the case, captioned Powder Mill Heights, et al., v. Township of Parsippany-Troy Hills, Judge Bozenelis struck down a Parsippany-Troy Hills ordinance that required landlords to turn over the names, Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, places of employment and phone numbers of all tenants.
"The right to privacy in your home and control over your personal information are core principles enshrined in our federal and state constitutions," said Grayson Barber, a Princeton attorney who submitted the legal brief on behalf of the ACLU-NJ. "This is an especially important principle given significant concerns in recent years over identity theft."
Judge Bozenelis ruled that the ordinance violated tenants' privacy and due process rights and that, if the town was concerned about overcrowding, all that was necessary for town officials to obtain was the number of residents in each unit. This was the position advocated by the ACLU-NJ in a "friend-of-the-court" brief submitted in June 2007.
In its brief, the ACLU-NJ cited to a prior Appellate Division decision that struck down a similar measure in Belmar, N.J. In that decision, the court held that the town "does not need to know the names of tenants or their addresses or other personal information to enforce an occupancy limit."
NEWARK, N.J. -- The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today announced that it has joined a lawsuit in the role of "friend-of-the-court" in a case concerning the privacy rights of tenants.
The lawsuit, captioned Powder Mill Heights, et al., v. Township of Parsippany-Troy Hills, challenges a township ordinance requiring landlords to turn over the names and Social Security numbers of all tenants. The ordinance also requires that landlords provide the town with the driver's license numbers, places of employment and phone numbers of all tenants.
"One of the core principles of our democracy, enshrined in our federal and state constitutions, is the right to privacy in your own home and control over your personal information," said Grayson Barber, a Princeton attorney who submitted the legal brief on behalf of the ACLU-NJ. "This ordinance subjects anyone who rents a home in Parsippany-Troy Hills to a profound invasion of privacy."
In its brief, the ACLU-NJ argued that the forced disclosure of Social Security numbers violates both federal and state statutes protecting the confidentiality of those numbers. In response to the town's stated need to adopt the ordinance to address overcrowding, the ACLU-NJ asserted that government should only be allowed to obtain the number of tenants in each apartment, not the names or Social Security numbers of those tenants.
"Every person in New Jersey has a right to refuse the unnecessary, forced disclosure of private information to the government," added Barber. "This is especially true given significant concerns in recent years over identity theft."
The ACLU-NJ, in its brief, noted an Appellate Division decision that struck down a similar measure in Belmar, N.J. In that decision, the court held that the town "does not need to know the names of tenants or their addresses or other personal information to enforce an occupancy limit."
Morris County Superior Court Judge B. Theodore Bozonelis accepted the ACLU-NJ as a friend-of-the-court on June 20, allowing the organization to participate in the lawsuit.
The brief is available on the ACLU-NJ Web site at Powder Mill v. Parsippany-Troy Hills Brief (38k PDF).