ACLU-NJ Seeks Details of Syrian Refugee Policy

November 24, 2015
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NEWARK -- The ACLU of New Jersey is asking the state Department of Human Services and state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness to make public the “directive” issued by Gov. Chris Christie that bars state agencies from assisting in the resettlement of any Syrian refugees in New Jersey.

In a request made through the Open Public Record Act (OPRA), the ACLU-NJ seeks further detail about the plan envisioned by the governor, including documentation of his directive and documents showing how the agencies are implementing the directive.  

Christie first mentioned the directive in a Nov. 17 letter to President Obama in which he declared the state will not accept any refuges from Syria.

“Effective today, I am directing the New Jersey Department of Human Services not to participate in the resettlement of any Syrian refugees in the State of New Jersey,” Christie wrote, “and am requesting that all nongovernmental organizations assisting with the resettlement of refugees in New Jersey notify the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness and Department of Human Services of their placement of any refugees from Syria.”

So far, 75 refugees from Syria have been resettled in New Jersey, according to social service agencies. The Obama Administration is considering allowing thousands more resettle in the U.S.

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>> ACLU-NJ OPRA Requests On Syrian Refugee Policy

>> Christie Letter to President Obama on Syrian Refugees

ACLU-NJ Condemns Christie's Refusal to Accept Refugees

November 17, 2015
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NEWARK - The ACLU of New Jersey strongly condemned New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for telling President Barack Obama today that New Jersey will not accept refugees from Syria. Governor Christie’s letter to President Obama follows Christie’s Nov. 16 statement to radio host Hugh Hewitt that the U.S. should not admit any Syrian refugees, even “orphans under five.”

New Jersey has taken in 75 refugees fleeing the crisis in Syria since the beginning of January, making it the ninth highest state in terms of accepting refugees this year. Since 2012, 1,854 Syrian refugees have settled in the U.S.

The following statement is attributable to ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer:

Udi Ofer

“As New Jerseyans, we’re deeply disappointed that Governor Christie would turn his back on refugees who are trying to escape exactly what he fears: terrorism. This kind of fear-mongering blames refugees for the very terror they are fleeing, and it erodes our civil rights and civil liberties.

“Resettlement of refugees is a matter handled by the U.S. State Department, not individual governors. States don’t have veto power in this area, and it would violate the Constitution for a governor to bar an entire group of refugees based on nationality, religion, race, or ethnicity.

“New Jersey in particular has been a haven for those who need refuge the most, and Christie’s sentiments go against American principles and the principles of the people of our state. We stand in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France commemorating our revolutionary devotion to freedom and a symbol of welcome to immigrants the world over.

“Christie’s extreme response to the question of Syrian refugees underestimates the safeguards in place to ensure our security. The United States is known for being painstakingly rigorous in screening refugees seeking to resettle in America. Christie’s blanket refusal to consider accepting even a small part of the largest flow of humanity since the Second World War speaks to an indiscriminate distrust of people who seek better lives on our shores.”

ACLU-NJ Launches Mobile Justice Smartphone App

November 13, 2015
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Mobile Justice New Jersey

NEWARK - Smartphones have become a game-changing check on police power, and the release of a new video recording app by the ACLU-NJ gives New Jerseyans even more power to document interactions with law enforcement.

As part of a national movement to hold police departments accountable, the ACLU-NJ joins 11 other ACLU affiliates today in launching state-specific versions of Mobile Justice, an app for Android and Apple phones that allows users to record interactions with police and to send them immediately to the ACLU to evaluate for civil rights and civil liberties violations.

“You have the right to film the police, and everyone should feel empowered to exercise that right,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “From Eric Garner to Walter Scott, videos of police encounters have revealed hard truths about biased policing and police brutality. And it’s sparking a movement to reform police practices. This app is designed to place power in the hands of the people and help document police abuses, while hopefully deterring police misconduct from happening in the first place.”

The app has features that allow users to:

  • record both audio and video through the app or using the buttons on the outside of their Android or Apple phones
  • send their recordings directly to the ACLU of New Jersey for review.
  • activate a “witness” function, with which they can opt to share their location with other nearby Mobile Justice users during encounters with police.
  • operate the app with a locked screen, which can help prevent officers from interrupting the recording if they seize the phone.

The app also contains New Jersey-specific information outlining the rights of individuals when interacting with police.

Mobile Justice New Jersey

Videos captured on the Mobile Justice NJ app will be transmitted to the ACLU-NJ and preserved even if the user’s phone is later seized or destroyed.

“The use of mobile phone cameras has permanently changed American policing for the better by shedding light on the prevalence of police abuses, a very real concern in many New Jersey communities, especially in communities of color,” said Ari Rosmarin, public policy director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “The ACLU is excited New Jerseyans will now have a direct line of contact with us to instantly report when civil rights violations have taken place. Greater police accountability will lead to better policing and safer communities.”

The ACLU of New Jersey released an earlier version of a recording application in 2012, but Mobile Justice has improved upon and expanded that technology.

Mobile Justice NJ is mainly intended for use by bystanders, and users of the app should always make sure to not interfere with police investigations. The ACLU of New Jersey recognizes that some users may want to use it while they are involved in a police encounter. Persons directly interacting with police officers should follow police directions and should not make movements that may put them in danger. Anyone interacting with law enforcement should announce that they are reaching for a phone, and that they are attempting to access the app to record the exchange. Users’ safety depends on their ability to clearly communicate any actions they take and remain calm. If unsure, do not reach for your phone.

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Statement on President Obama's Visit to Newark

November 2, 2015
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ACLU-NJ Statement Upon President Obama’s Newark Visit

NEWARK - Upon President Obama’s visit to Newark to announce initiatives to reform the criminal justice system in the United States, the ACLU-NJ issues a statement praising these efforts and recommending proposals to make the criminal justice system fairer. During his trip to Newark, President Obama will focus primarily on easing prisoners’ reentry into society after incarceration as one part of larger plans to make the criminal justice system more humane. 

The following statement is attributable to ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer:

Udi Ofer

“The ACLU of New Jersey welcomes President Barack Obama to Newark, and applauds the leadership of the president, United States Senator Cory Booker, and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka in fixing our nation's broken criminal justice system. The United States currently holds 2.2 million people in prison, up from fewer than 350,000 in 1972. With five percent of the world’s population, the United States has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

“While New Jersey has worked to reduce its prison population, the state still imprisons far too many people; and they are disproportionately from low-income communities of color. If New Jersey were its own country, it would have the second highest incarceration rate in the world, just behind Cuba. Beyond the high number of prisoners, New Jersey still suffers under the tremendous racial disparity that plagues the criminal justice system across the nation. People from communities of color make up more than three quarters of all prisoners in New Jersey.

“In order to replace this broken system of mass incarceration with a smarter system of criminal justice, transformative change must happen. Our leaders need to tackle every aspect of the criminal justice system, from arrest to reentry. Reforms must include:

  • Ending police abuses and building strong and independent oversight mechanisms;
  • Reforming pretrial detention and ending harsh sentencing schemes driven by mandatory minimums;
  • Banning the cruel and inhumane practice of solitary confinement;
  • And lifting the barriers that prevent the formerly incarcerated from being reintegrated into society.

“These solutions will ensure that we create a smart justice system, one that is fair and humane, emphasizes prevention, and uses incarceration only as a last resort. We thank President Obama, Senator Booker, and Mayor Baraka for their vision and bold leadership on this vital civil rights issue.”

ACLU-NJ Scores Assembly Members on Key Civil Liberties Votes

October 28, 2015
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New Jersey General Assembly

NEWARK - On the most important civil liberties issues facing the 216th Legislature, a majority in the General Assembly voted with the ACLU of New Jersey at least 90 percent of the time.

The first-ever ACLU-NJ legislative scorecard tracks the records of Assembly members on 13 key issues votes during the legislative session that began Jan. 2014. In the run-up to the Nov. 3 election, in which Assembly members are at the top of the ticket, the ACLU-NJ is releasing a scorecard of those votes to educate the public at large as well as its 20,000 members and donors who live in every single legislative district in the state. The information can be found online at It includes a table showing how every Assembly member voted on the issues and allows users to learn details about the scored bills, compare Assembly members’ voting records, find out who made the Honor Roll, and look up scores for legislative districts and an interactive map of New Jersey.

“The good news is that most Assembly members vote for civil liberties and civil rights most of the time. The bad news is that our elected officials aren’t always there when it counts, like with the bill to allow transgender New Jerseyans access to birth certificates that reflect their true gender,” said Ari Rosmarin, ACLU-NJ Public Policy Director. “With this kind of sound information, civil rights voters can hold elected officials accountable because they know where their representatives stand on the key issues of the day when they go to the polls.”

Of the hundreds of bills the Legislature considered, the ACLU-NJ identified 13 votes as the most central to civil rights and civil liberties, including legislation to:

  • End solitary confinement for juveniles.
  • Require the Port Authority to abide by open records and open meeting laws.
  • Reform the state’s broken bail system.
  • Rein in the use of drones and restrict the purchase of surplus military equipment by law enforcement.
  • Expand medical parole to prisoners in need of 24-hour medical attention.
  • Allow transgender New Jerseyans to obtain a birth certificate that matches their gender identity.
  • Permit those with a terminal illness, with the assistance of a doctor, end their lives in a compassionate manner.
  • Create greater transparency in public funds used to rebuild after Superstorm Sandy.
  • Prohibit employers from asking first-round job applicants about criminal histories.
  • Expand opportunities for individuals to expunge their criminal records.

Out of New Jersey’s 80 Assembly members, 32 – or 40 percent – made the ACLU-NJ’s Honor Roll, with ratings of 100 percent.

The lowest rating belonged to Assemblyman Gregory McGuckin (R-Brick) at 38 percent. Eight other members of the Assembly scored below 50 percent and also earned a spot on the ACLU-NJ’s less-than 50 percent list.

“Above all, this scorecard is a tool for public accountability. We created it to allow New Jerseyans to learn where their lawmakers stand on key issues involving our rights and freedoms,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “We’re here to ensure those who have taken a stand for our fundamental civil rights continue to act in defense of our rights and liberties, and we’re here to put pressure on those who need a refresher in what it means to defend the rights of the people. Our goal is for every elected official to achieve a 100 percent rating. Even more importantly, our goal is for every resident of New Jersey to know where their representatives stand.”

The ACLU-NJ will continue to monitor important votes as the Legislature returns for its biennial lame-duck session after the election and before the 217th Legislature is convened in January. An updated scorecard, including scores for the Senate, will mark the end of the legislative term.

Visit to read the scorecard online, look up legislative districts, compare Assembly members on an interactive map of New Jersey, and learn about the details of the scored bills in more detail.

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ACLU-NJ Condemns Christie’s Inaccurate and Inflammatory Remarks About Black Lives Matter Movement

October 26, 2015
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NEWARK -- The ACLU of New Jersey reacted strongly today to the comments made Sunday on Face the Nation by Governor Chris Christie, who wrongly blamed the Black Lives Matter social justice movement for deaths of police officers. In fact, The Washington Post reported last month that 2015 is on pace to see 35 felonious killings of police officers, which would be the second lowest number of murders committed against cops in decades.

The following statement is attributable to ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer:

Udi Ofer

“Governor Christie needs to apologize for his statement that the Black Lives Matter movement is responsible for the killing of police officers in the United States. Such statements are irresponsible, offensive and flat-out wrong. Americans across the political spectrum have come to recognize that our nation's criminal justice system is broken, and the Black Lives Matter movement is part of a growing consensus that has rightfully focused on demanding greater transparency and accountability from our nation's police forces.

“Instead of disparaging the Black Lives Matter movement, Governor Christie should look at the track record of police departments in his own state. The Newark Police Department, the state’s largest municipal force, was cited last year by the United States Department of Justice for engaging in widespread civil rights violations.

“Telling the American people, in effect, to sit down and shut up is no solution to the serious issues too many communities face with law enforcement. The lives of police officers are paramount, but so, too, are the lives of people of color who have disproportionately faced the brunt of a broken criminal justice system.”

Nurse Sues Over NJ Quarantine During Ebola Panic

October 22, 2015
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Kaci Hickox "Selfie" in University Hospital Quarantine Tent Kaci Hickox "Selfie" in University Hospital Quarantine Tent

Nurse Kaci Hickox Challenges Detention in Newark a Year After Ebola Panic

The ACLU of New Jersey has teamed up with two New York law firms – Siegel Teitelbaum & Evans and McLaughlin & Stern -- to represent Kaci Hickox, the nurse who was detained last year in Newark after returning from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, in a challenge to New Jersey’s draconian quarantine policies.

The lawsuit (PDF), filed in U.S. District Court in Newark almost a year after her detention, charges that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and then-Commissioner of Health Mary O’Dowd illegally and unconstitutionally held Hickox against her will as part of a mandatory quarantine (PDF) for anyone returning from certain West African countries who treated patients with Ebola.

Hickox landed at Newark Liberty International Airport on October 24, 2014, en route home to Maine from West Africa. She was ordered to be held against her will despite showing no symptoms and engaging in no activities in Sierra Leone that would have put her at a high risk for contracting Ebola. She was first held at Newark Liberty International Airport, and soon after at University Hospital in Newark. Even after the negative blood test, New Jersey held Hickox for an additional two days, stretching her confinement to more than three days.

“I never had Ebola. I never had symptoms of Ebola. I tested negative for Ebola the first night I stayed in New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s private prison,” Hickox said. “My liberty, my interests and consequently my civil rights were ignored because some ambitious governors saw an opportunity to use an age-old political tactic: fear.”

Hickox is suing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd, and other health department officials. The suit claims they violated Hickox’s rights by depriving her of due process and unlawfully seizing, detaining and quarantining her, while relying on fear rather than science to justify her confinement.

“When Kaci Hickox was held against her will a year ago, it was unconstitutional, illegal, and unjustified,” said civil rights attorney Norman Siegel of Siegel Teitelbaum & Evans. “Kaci knew her rights, and today she is fighting for them.”

Steve Hyman of McLaughlin & Stern said, “While this lawsuit has been filed to vindicate Kaci’s constitutional rights, an important corollary of this action is to change the existing New Jersey quarantine policy so that what happened to Kaci will not happen to another health care worker on their return.”

Hickox was held in a field tent in an unheated parking garage at University Hospital in Newark. She had access to a portable toilet but not a shower, and had to ask for extra blankets. Ultimately, she was released and allowed to return to Maine.”

”The decision to quarantine anyone must be made based on science, not fear and politics,” said Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “In holding Kaci Hickox, the governor and the former head of the Department of Health not only violated her basic constitutional rights, but they did so without any scientific foundation. Now, a year later, we are proud to help Kaci vindicate those rights.”

The suit is captioned Hickox v. Christie, et al.

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Court Upholds Right to Challenge NYPD Surveillance Program

October 13, 2015
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The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today applauded a court decision today that ensures the right of Muslim New Jerseyans to challenge the New York Police Department surveillance program that appeared to target them based solely on their religious beliefs. The decision issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit sided with individuals, associations, and businesses represented by Muslim Advocates and the Center for Constitutional Rights, and reinstated the case in which the ACLU-NJ and Rutgers School of Law-Newark Constitutional Rights Clinic filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of numerous civil rights organizations. The opinion rejected a lower court opinion issued in February 2014 that had erroneously held that the plaintiffs had no standing to sue and accepted at face value the government’s unsupported rationale for the spying.

As explained by the Court: “What occurs here in one guise is not new. We have been down similar roads before. Jewish-Americans during the Red Scare, African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, and Japanese-Americans during World War II are examples that readily spring to mind. We are left to wonder why we cannot see with foresight what we see so clearly with hindsight — that ‘loyalty is a matter of the heart and mind, not race, creed, or color.’”

The following statement is from Edward Barocas, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Jersey.

Edward Barocas

“The ACLU-NJ commends the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for reinstating the case against the NYPD’s discriminatory spying program. It appears the agency spied on Muslim individuals, mosques, and Muslim-owned businesses based solely on religion. Our Constitution forbids such discriminatory actions.

“Widespread discriminatory policies against religious and ethnic minorities have occurred before in our country, but we look back on such actions with regret, as we will here. The opinion today rightly overturned a ruling that would have denied individuals the right to challenge patently unconstitutional discrimination. When the government profiles an entire group of people based solely on a characteristic such as ethnicity or religion, affected individuals are due their day in court, which will now happen. We look forward to the next steps in this important case.”

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Voting Rights Groups Call for Election Day Registration

October 5, 2015
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ACLU-NJ, Rutgers Constitutional Rights Clinic, and New Jersey Appleseed File Appellate Brief

NEWARK -- The Constitutional Rights Clinic at Rutgers School of Law-Newark, New Jersey Appleseed, and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey filed a brief today (PDF) explaining that New Jersey’s current rule of cutting off voter registration 21 days before an election imposes an undue and unnecessary burden on too many voters, resulting in a denial of the right to vote.

“Each election cycle, thousands of voters are unnecessarily disenfranchised,” said Frank Askin, director of the Rutgers Constitutional Rights Clinic. “States with Election Day voter registration have higher turnout, and given modern technology and the ease with which states can verify voter information, their registration processes continue to function smoothly.”

The ACLU-NJ, Rutgers CRC, and New Jersey Appleseed, working on behalf of Rutgers students and other affected plaintiffs, filed the brief in the Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court.

The state’s strict registration regulations disproportionately deny the right to vote to young adults, who move more frequently than others. But it also denies the right to vote to persons who become newly naturalized citizens within 21 days of an election, people who believed they were properly registered (included those whose registration was lost by the government before it was put into the system), and those who finish terms of incarceration within 21 days of an election. Further, the current regulations are incompatible with modern political campaigning, which targets voters most heavily in the week before an election, when voter interest peaks.

“Advances in technology and New Jersey’s modern election machinery have made a 21-day deadline before an election unnecessary and obsolete, as the experience in other states shows,” stated ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas.

New Jersey’s electronic voter databases, modernized in accordance with the Help America Vote Act, can rapidly verify voter information and identity. Further, New Jersey already uses provisional ballots (provided to voters who appear at the polls but who are not found in the voter rolls) as registration for future elections. The voter simply has to be verified as a legitimate voter, which happens quickly given the statewide verification system. Plaintiffs explain that those provisional ballots therefore can easily be – and should be - counted in the election in which it was cast.

“After being given numerous opportunities, the state failed to prove any legitimate, much less compelling, interest to justify a burden that results in the loss of the right to vote for thousands of New Jerseyans every year,” said Renée Steinhagen of New Jersey Appleseed. “It’s time for New Jersey to end this unnecessary disenfranchisement of voters given the State’s current electronic verification process and join the many states that allow Election Day registration.”

This is the second time the case is before the appellate court. After a trial court erroneously dismissed the case in 2014, an appellate panel found that the court had failed to explain the state’s interest in an early registration deadline, and whether that outweighed the importance of upholding the right to vote. The previous decision in the trial court contained factual errors and misapplications of the law.

The case is captioned Rutgers University Student Assembly v. Middlesex County Board of Elections.

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Family, Community Demand Investigation in Leak of Trenton Teen's Juvenile History

September 9, 2015
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TRENTON – The mother of a Trenton teenager shot by police a month ago will be joined by the United Mercer Interfaith Organization and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey in calling for an investigation into the leaking of her son’s prior juvenile justice history.

Reports have appeared in the media detailing encounters by law enforcement with Radazz Hearns, 14, who survived seven gunshots to his legs and back. An Aug. 27 Trentonian article attributed information it published about the teenager's record to police reports released “under state sunshine laws.”

State law precludes the release of juvenile justice history, saying those records “shall be strictly safeguarded from public inspections.”

In letters (PDF) to U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, New Jersey Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, and Mercer County Acting Prosecutor Angelo Onofri, Ms. Jackson and the groups asked for investigations into the leak. “Because the information provided to the Trentonian is exclusively under the control of law enforcement agencies, we request that you conduct an investigation into New Jersey law enforcement agencies to determine who provided the information to the press,” their letter to Fishman said.

Four other letters (PDF) were sent to the heads of the law enforcement agencies with jurisdiction – New Jersey State Police Superintendent Colonel Rick Fuentes, Mercer County Sheriff John Kemler, Hopewell Township Police Chief Lance Maloney, and Trenton Police Director Ernest Parrey – asking for internal investigations of their departments, and demanding accountability for making protected records public.

“My son has been the target of a smear campaign using private information about encounters with authorities that could have only come from police in order to discredit him and justify the actions of the officers who shot him,” said Slimes Jackson, Radazz Hearns’ mother.

Hearns was unarmed when police approached him the night of Aug. 7, according to his lawyer, Samuel Anyan, Jr. But a release from the Office of the Attorney General said Hearns pointed a handgun at police before turning to flee as an explanation for why officers opened fire. A gun was recovered at the scene 12 hours after the incident. Police reports said an emergency vehicle parked on top of the weapon, which delayed recovery. Hearns, who was hospitalized for 10 days, has been charged with aggravated assault.

“The community has been kept in the dark all along about this investigation and the officers who were involved in the shooting. It is critical that the police are transparent and impartial in their actions – not secretly supplying reporters with prejudicial details of police interactions with juveniles to create a negative narrative,” said Rev. Lukata Mjumbe, United Mercer Interfaith Organization.

The officers involved in the shooting, reportedly from the New Jersey State Police and the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office, have not been named.

Meanwhile, media reports citing sources who asked not to be identified have provided detailed accounts of Hearns’ juvenile record, including information about the school he attends.

“The media enjoy First Amendment protections in the reporting of information, but there is no doubt releasing the prior juvenile justice history of a teenage suspect by law enforcement is not just inappropriate but unlawful,” said Alexander Shalom, ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney.

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