What is the ACLU of New Jersey?
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization devoted to defending the principles of freedom, justice and equality guaranteed by our state and federal constitutions and civil rights laws. We undertake litigation and advocacy on behalf of individuals, and we lobby for civil liberties in state and local government. In addition, the ACLU is active in many public education and community organizing projects.
As one of more than 50 local ACLU affiliates around the country, the ACLU of New Jersey works to defend against civil liberties and civil rights violations that happen in the state of New Jersey. We do not provide assistance about matters that occurred outside of New Jersey. To find the ACLU affiliate in another state, please visit the national ACLU website.
How do we help people whose rights have been violated?
- We carefully consider each request for assistance that we receive.
- When possible, we offer information in response to specific inquiries or concerns.
- We provide information to people on how to assert their own rights and sometimes advocate on their behalf.
- When we can't help, we refer people to other organizations that may be able to.
- We undertake selected lawsuits that will defend fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution while at the same time extending those rights to a much larger number of people as well. However, the number of cases that we take is relatively small.
The ACLU provides information to thousands of people each year to assist them in asserting their rights. Some of this information is available on our website’s publications page. Sometimes we suggest other organizations that may be able to help. Sometimes we act as advocates for individuals and take cases to court. However, the ACLU can provide direct representation to only a small number of clients each year, in cases with the potential to set legal precedents for the preservation or advancement of civil liberties.
What don’t we do?
The ACLU of New Jersey is not a government agency or a general legal services organization. We do not dispense general legal advice, provide emergency services, or make referrals to attorneys. We do not handle matters that happen outside the state of New Jersey Because we do not have independent investigative resources, we tend to take cases that do not involve complicated disputes of fact, and prefer cases that involve questions of law only.
We often decide not to accept cases involving factual disputes because:
- If a court resolves the facts against the client, the case may never reach the civil liberties or civil rights issues.
- If the decision rests upon the specific facts of a case, the case is less likely to have a broad impact affecting many more people beyond the original client.
- We have too few attorneys on staff for us to devote a significant amount of time to resolving factual disputes.
The ACLU does not generally assist in the types of cases listed below, though there are exceptions:
- Criminal defense or post-conviction appeals
- Divorce or child custody disputes
- Property disputes
- Tax problems
- Consumer complaints
- Landlord-tenant disputes
- Building code issues
- Complaints about lawyers or judges
How does the ACLU choose cases?
The ACLU generally files cases that affect the civil liberties or civil rights of large numbers of people. We ask these basic questions when reviewing a potential case:
- Is this a significant civil liberties or civil rights issue?
- What effect will this case have on people in addition to our client?
- Do we have the necessary resources to take this case?
Our Legal Department reviews all of the complaints we receive, in search of civil liberties issues that the ACLU may be able to assist with.
Some of the issues we look for relate to:
- Freedom of speech or censorship
- Religious liberty
- Illegal discrimination
- Police practices
- Criminal and juvenile justice
- Voting rights
- Open government
- Reproductive rights
- Student and youth rights
- Inhumane jail and prison conditions
What does it cost?
ACLU assistance, including litigation, is provided free of charge to the people we help. The ACLU-NJ’s work relies mainly on individual donations for its funding. We carefully review and consider all requests for assistance; donors are not given special consideration.
Why does the ACLU turn down cases that fall within our guidelines?
There are too many incidents of unfairness and injustice for the ACLU to handle all of them, unfortunately. (We wish we could.) We receive thousands of requests for help each year at this office alone. Even if your complaint is not pursued by our office, it does not mean it is without merit.
What other resources exist?
If you are looking for free legal assistance with a civil matter, you can contact Legal Services of New Jersey, which provides services to qualifying low-income residents. For criminal matters, you can contact the Office of Public Defender.
Can the ACLU advise me about my case?
Unless we accept your case, the ACLU is unable to give you legal advice, answer questions, or provide other types of assistance – for example, reviewing papers or conducting legal research to assist you. This policy allows us to direct the necessary resources to those cases we do accept.
If you are presently represented by an attorney, legal ethics prohibit us from talking with you about your case without the permission of your attorney. If you believe there are issues that merit ACLU attention, you should discuss them with your attorney and have the attorney contact us directly.
Important note about deadlines
All legal claims have time deadlines. The deadlines may differ depending on who may have violated your rights and how. Depending on the type of violation, you may need to file a claim with a government agency before you can sue, and these agencies may have their own deadlines. If you do not comply with the applicable statutes of limitations, you may be legally barred from pursuing your claim in court.
Contacting the ACLU to describe your problem does not mean that the ACLU represents you, nor does it stop the statute of limitations from running. The ACLU cannot give you advice about the deadlines that apply to your case. To protect your rights, please consult an attorney promptly to find out what deadlines may apply to your case.