Sojourner A. v. New Jersey Department of Human Services

On August 4, 2003, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the "Child Exclusion" provision of New Jersey's welfare law did not violate the State Constitution. In 1997, the ACLU-NJ filed a class action lawsuit challenging the Child Exclusion provision, which denies welfare benefits to any child whose family was receiving benefits when the child was born. We argued that this denial, which will cause severe injury to poor children, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the New Jersey Constitution because it irrationally treats similarly situated children differently based on the timing and circumstances of their birth. We also argued that the law violates a woman's rights to privacy and reproductive freedom because it coerces poor women in their childbearing decisions regarding whether to become pregnant and whether to have an abortion if they do become pregnant. The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the lower courts, finding that the failure to provide the additional benefits that would normally be afforded does not infringe upon a woman's right to have a child. Specifically, the Court held that "even if we assume that procreative choices are influenced by a cap on cash assistance to the family unit, we do not find that influence to be 'undue,' or that a new burden is thereby created . . . Indeed, the family cap appears to do no more than place welfare families on a par with working families [who also must decide whether or not to have another child based upon financial circumstances]." The ACLU-NJ now hopes to address this wrong-headed law through legislative efforts. This case was closed in 2003.

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