The ACLU-NJ filed an amicus brief in New Jersey Supreme Court arguing that, when the state seeks to remove a child from a parent's custody, the parent has a statutory and constitutional right to represent him or herself in the proceedings. This proposition may sound self-evident, but the Appellate Division ruled that parents do not have such a right and, instead, must accept a lawyer's representation even if they do not want it. As the ACLU-NJ's brief explains, the law that grants parents a right to counsel in termination of parental rights cases is properly interpreted as providing a corollary right of self-representation. Furthermore, forcing an attorney on an unwilling parent risks undermining the parent's case and the integrity of the proceedings on whole. As such, it violates the constitutional guarantees of procedural due process. Finally, substantive due process protects the fundamental right of self-representation embedded in our nation's history and implicit in the Constitution's reverence for individual autonomy.

Date filed

February 13, 2018


New Jersey Supreme Court