As Governor, Presidential Candidate Christie Earned Low Marks

June 30, 2015
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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

ACLU-NJ Report Card Reflects Poor Performance in First Term

NEWARK – As New Jersey Governor Chris Christie prepares to announce his candidacy today for president of the United States, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) reissued its report card on his first term in office.

Christie earned a grade of D+ for his record on civil liberties and civil rights. Now into his second term, Christie not only continues his poor performance, but raises new concerns about his record on key matters of constitutional rights.

“As Americans begin to consider candidates for the presidency, it is vitally important that they are informed about their candidates’ records on constitutional rights and freedoms,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “We hope that this guide will help voters become more informed about Governor Christie’s stance on key civil liberties and civil rights issues.”

The ACLU-NJ report card graded Christie on 12 crucial civil rights and liberties matters: freedom of expression, freedom of religion, separation of church and state, voting rights, women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, privacy, LGBT rights, criminal justice and drug policy, transparency, separation of powers, and economic justice.

“Governor Christie’s record on civil liberties and civil rights has been a poor one,” said Ofer. “Some of his most frustrating moments have been those times when he paid lip service to the protection of rights but failed to back up words with actions. For gay and lesbian New Jerseyans seeking to marry, sick patients in need of medical marijuana, or New Jerseyans seeking to learn basic information about their state government, the Christie administration has been a failure.”

Christie’s lowest grades were in the areas of transparency, separation of church and state, and separation of powers. The governor earned higher marks in other areas, such as freedom of religion. Following are some highlights (and lowlights).

  • Freedom of religion: Christie earned a solid B, his highest mark, particularly for his work to protect Muslim New Jerseyans from discrimination.
  • State involvement in religion: On the other end of the religion spectrum, Christie earned an F for giving away millions in state funds to two sectarian religious institutions that train clergy members.
  • Transparency: Christie earned a solid F for his record on transparency, despite campaigning in 2009 as the candidate who will bring accountability to Trenton. He fought against reforms to bring more transparency to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the bi-state agency at the epicenter of the Bridgegate scandal, and his administration routinely denies basic open records requests that the courts later overturn.
  • Criminal justice and drug policy: Christie’s record is a mixed one, earning him a C. He supported reforming the state’s broken bail system, as well as adding oversight to police acquisition of military equipment. However, he has dragged his heels implementing medical marijuana and more recently opposed an effort to regulate and tax marijuana, saying that as president he would prosecute individuals in the four states that have legalized marijuana for personal use by adults. During his time in office, New Jersey has made more than 100,000 arrests for marijuana possession.
  • LGBT rights: Christie fought against marriage equality, ending his opposition only when it became clear he would lose in court, earning him a D.
  • Immigrants’ rights: Christie supported giving undocumented immigrants a chance at college by signing the New Jersey Dream Act, but vetoed an important provision to open the doors fully by allowing them to apply for state financial aid.
  • Women’s rights: Christie has a mixed record. He slashed funding for women’s family planning centers, which has forced at least six clinics to close or fire staff. He did, however, sign into law a bill that protects women from pregnancy discrimination, as well as several measures aimed at closing the wage gap between men and women.

Christie’s second-term has raised other civil liberties and rights concerns. He has opposed early, in-person voting, dismissing it as an attempt at voter fraud despite the lack of evidence to support such claims. And eight months ago his administration issued an order requiring the detention of medical workers returning from one of three West African countries where they treated Ebola patients, even if they were asymptomatic. The decision was widely criticized by the medical community following the detention of a nurse, Kaci Hickox, at Newark Liberty International Airport. In the face of public pressure, he eventually released Hickox.

Finally, Christie has repeatedly stated that the Patriot Act does not violate civil liberties, despite the fact that numerous federal courts have found provisions of the Act to be unconstitutional and to violate civil liberties.

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Spooky Stuff at the ACLU-NJ

October 31, 2014
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This Halloween the staff at the ACLU of New Jersey share what spooks them when it comes to defending our civil liberties. The videos below will serve content from YouTube's privacy statment. ACLU-NJ's privacy statement.

When Drones Attack!

ACLU-NJ Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin is afraid of unregulated drones in New Jersey's skies (and conference rooms).

The Loss of Privacy

ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom is scared that the 4th Amendment will disappear (literally).

Freedom of Expression

ACLU-NJ Administrative Assistant Farah Rahaman is afraid of not being able to express herself.

Voting Rights

ACLU-NJ Transparency Law Fellow Iris Bromberg is frightened that voter suppression laws will take away her right to vote.

Gov. Chris Christie gets D+ in Civil Rights and Liberties from ACLU-NJ

June 9, 2014
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NEWARK - The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) has given Gov. Chris Christie a D+ (PDF) for his overall record on civil liberties and civil rights during his first term in office. The ACLU-NJ examined the governor’s record in 12 issue areas and gave him his lowest grades in the areas of separation of church and state, transparency, and separation of powers.

The governor earned higher marks in other areas, such as freedom of religion and voting rights. The report card examines the Christie administration from January 19, 2010 when Gov. Christie was sworn into office, to January 20, 2014 when his first term ended.

“Gov. Christie’s overall record on civil liberties and civil rights has been poor, ranging mostly from mediocre to failing,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “The Christie administration’s first-term record on civil liberties will be remembered for its assaults on judicial independence and the separation of church and state, as well as for its disdain for transparency. Some of Governor Christie’s most frustrating civil liberties moments have been those instances where he has failed to back up bold words with substantive actions, such as in the areas of LGBT rights and the failed war on drugs.”

The first-term report card graded the governor on 12 crucial civil rights and liberties issues: freedom of expression, freedom of religion, separation of church and state, voting rights, women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, privacy, LGBT rights, criminal justice and drug policy, transparency, separation of powers, and economic justice. This report card expanded on the categories of the ACLU-NJ’s 2012 interim report card, which graded him in eight categories.

“The real concern here is not what these grades mean for Gov. Christie and his administration, but what they’ve meant for everyday New Jerseyans,” said ACLU-NJ Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin. “From loving couples seeking to get married, to sick patients in need of medical marijuana, to poor New Jerseyans struggling to find an affordable place to live, many of us have not had a friend in the Governor’s office. While there still remains time to improve, as of now, this administration’s legacy on civil rights and liberties is not a proud one.”

Christie’s highest grade came in the area of freedom of religion, the category in which he also earned his highest marks in the ACLU-NJ’s interim report card. Christie deservedly received praise for supporting a developer’s decision to construct a mosque and Muslim community center near the World Trade Center during the height of the controversy in 2011. Soon after, Christie garnered national attention for excoriating a faction that railed against the appointment of a Muslim lawyer to serve as a Superior Court judge.

Christie’s appreciation for freedom of religion swung too far in the other direction when it came down to state involvement in religion. In the category of separation of church and state, Christie received the lowest score – an F. Especially damning was his administration’s decision to give away millions in state funds to two sectarian religious institutions: Beth Medrash Govoha, a school that trains Orthodox rabbis, and Princeton Theological Seminary, which trains Christian clergy.

The ACLU-NJ recognized his administration’s support for voting rights, especially in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, with a B-. In transparency, separation of powers and economic justice, Christie earned solid Fs for his abysmal record on all three issues across the board. The Bridgegate scandal exposed how frequently the administration attempted to keep government business out of the public eye, but it hardly stands in isolation.

Christie’s protracted fight against marriage equality, which ended only when it became clear that he would lose, cast a long shadow over some of his gestures of good will toward the LGBT community, resulting in his final grade of a D in LGBT rights. When it comes to immigrants’ rights, Gov. Christie supported giving undocumented immigrants a chance at a higher education by signing the NJ Dream Act, but he removed an important provision that would have fully opened the doors of opportunity by allowing them to apply for state financial aid, earning him an overall grade of a C in immigrants’ rights. Gov. Christie earned Cs in a plurality of other subjects as well, including freedom of expression, women’s rights, privacy, and criminal justice and drug policy, although even those grades ranged from C- to C+.

“The Christie administration deserves credit where credit is due, especially in taking a stand for religious expression and being responsive to voting concerns in the wake of Superstorm Sandy,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Edward Barocas. “But where Gov. Christie stumbles, such as when it comes to the separation of powers and to transparency, the bottom falls out. We hope the governor learned his civil liberties lesson from numerous court actions that were successfully brought against his administration during his first term, but if not, we’re ready to compel him to act as if he were an A student.”

Where Do the 12th Congressional District Candidates Stand on Civil Rights and Liberties Issues

May 30, 2014
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On May 1, the ACLU of New Jersey and other leading civil rights organizations hosted a civil rights and liberties debate in Princeton for candidates vying for the 12th Congressional District seat. The seat is being vacated by U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, who is retiring.

Democratic candidates Upendra Chivukula, Linda Greenstein, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Andrew Zwicker and Republican candidate Alieta Eck, squared off on a variety of questions about civil rights and civil liberties issues. The event was moderated by NJTV anchor Mike Schneider.

The ACLU works to protect the fundamental right of every adult citizen in New Jersey to cast a ballot and have that ballot counted. Call the League of Women Voters of New Jersey Election Day hotline: 1-800-792-VOTE (8683) if you encounter any problems at the polls on June 3rd.

Co-sponsoring organization included: AFSC Immigrant Rights Program, CAIR-NJ, Drug Policy Alliance- New Jersey, The Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., New Jersey NAACP State Conference, YWCA Princeton, and YWCA Union County.

Inform yourself about the candidates’ stances on civil rights and liberties issues. (PDF)

Court Signs Order Protecting Rights of Displaced New Jersey Residents

November 8, 2012
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Numerous requests for email ballots went unanswered by county offices

NEWARK – Displaced New Jersey residents who attempted to obtain a ballot through email or fax, but were not successful on Election Day, will still be able to cast their votes until Friday. Superior Court Judge Walter Koprowski in Essex County signed an order stating that voters who provide proof that they attempted to receive a ballot on Nov. 6, but did not receive one, will still have their vote counted.

The order, which was signed on Nov. 7, states that county clerks statewide must continue to accept and process applications for ballots, as long as the displaced voter provides proof that he or she made an attempt to receive a ballot on Election Day. Voters who tried to vote before 5 p.m. on Nov. 6 unsuccessfully and still wish to cast a ballot must contact their county clerk before noon Friday, Nov. 9. They must also provide proof of an attempt such as a bounced email message or a fax transmission statement showing that the fax did not go through to their county clerk.

The ACLU-NJ recommends voters contact their county clerks right away in order to meet Friday’s noon deadline.

The order was issued after the ACLU-NJ filed a petition asking the court to intervene based on complaints from many displaced voters who said they could not obtain ballots from county election offices, many of which were overwhelmed with the volume of requests.

On Nov. 3, in response to the storm, Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno issued a directive that called for voters displaced by the storm to be treated as if they were overseas residents, who are allowed to vote by fax or email. The ACLU-NJ and other voter protection advocates praised the state for taking steps to make sure their votes would be counted. But on Election Day, the ACLU-NJ received a number of complaints from voters who said they tried to obtain a ballot through fax or email but heard no response.

“My husband and I have contacted the Essex County Clerk’s office via email, phone and online in order to vote via email. We have not heard back from them after numerous attempts,” said Tricia Figgins, an Essex County voter who was forced to temporarily move to New York. “The gas shortage complicates the issue, because we cannot use gas to drive two hours to our local polling place.”

After hearing complaints similar to those expressed by Figgins, the Lieutenant Governor issued another directive on Tuesday extending the time within which displaced voters could obtain and cast ballots to Friday, Nov. 9, as long as the request for that ballot was received by the county clerk by 5 p.m. on Election Day. However, the state’s directive did not explicitly account for individuals who attempted to contact their county clerks’ offices unsuccessfully due to the high volume of requests received.

The ACLU-NJ went to court on behalf of Figgins as well as two other voters: Abigail Jones, a resident of Maplewood displaced by the hurricane to Pennsylvania, and Barbara Ertel, a South Orange resident displaced by the storm who took refuge in Delaware.

The ACLU-NJ petitioned the judge to intervene and asked the court to allow displaced voters to vote by using the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot, which is also used by members of the military serving overseas and other overseas U.S. citizens who cannot obtain a ballot. The judge denied that request.

“While we did not obtain the remedy we thought most capable of protecting voters’ rights, the judge in our case did order that the state hold firm to its commitment to afford the right to vote to all voters who were displaced by Hurricane Sandy,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Alexander Shalom. “The judge’s order attempts to protect the rights of displaced voters who tried in vain this Election Day to obtain a ballot.”

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Election Protection Effort Launched to Assist Voters in Nov. 6 Election

November 6, 2012
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The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey will provide assistance to voters as they go to the polls on Nov. 6 to vote in the presidential election. If you are experiencing problems, call the NJ Vote Line at 1-800-792-VOTE (8683), which will be answered by the League of Women Voters. You can also contact the ACLU-NJ directly at 973-642-2086 x1719.

Citizens who have been displaced by last week’s storm have two options for voting. They can either:

  • Vote by provisional ballots at any polling place in the state, even at polling places outside of their own county. Depending on the polling place you use, you may not be able to cast a vote in local or congressional elections, but your vote for all statewide ballot questions, U.S. Senate and President will definitely be counted.
  • If you have no way to get to a polling place or you want to make sure to cast a vote in a local election, you may email or fax the form to request and receive "vote by mail" ballots by 5 pm on Nov. 6. You will then receive a ballot that you have to return the same way by 8 pm Election Day. Anyone who casts a ballot via email or fax must also send a hard copy of their ballot to the county clerk to have a record of the vote and the time it was placed.

The ACLU-NJ will also have volunteer attorneys at Bergen, Middlesex and Morris counties to represent voters who believe they were wrongly turned away from the polls. Please call us if you live in those counties to see if we can assist you in court to petition for the right to vote.

To learn more about your voting rights, visit our Voting Rights page for more information.

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Voters Demand Same-Day Registration in NJ Elections

April 19, 2011
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NEW BRUNSWICK — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, along with co-counsels Rutgers School of Law-Newark Constitutional Litigation Clinic and New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center, filed a lawsuit today arguing for Election Day voter registration to remove obstacles that impede the right to vote. The suit, filed on behalf of Rutgers University students, Middlesex County residents, the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey and New Jersey Citizen Action, aims to strengthen the right to vote for the thousands of eligible New Jersey voters disenfranchised each election cycle.

“The facts show that states that allow election-day registration have substantially higher voter participation, and they also show that election-day registration has functioned smoothly there,” said Professor Frank Askin, Director of the Rutgers School of Law-Newark Constitutional Litigation Clinic.

The lawsuit (63k PDF), filed in Middlesex County Superior Court, argues that New Jersey cannot justify its prohibition against voters who try to register less than 21 days before an election. Election-day registration would provide recourse against burdensome factors often outside of voters’ control that currently rob many thousands of New Jerseyans of their right to vote in elections.

“An overwhelming number of the problems the ACLU-NJ sees year after year monitoring polls and helping voters could be solved in one fell swoop by instituting Election Day registration,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas. “Two of the main culprits in denying people their right to vote — citizens not receiving provisional ballots or not having those ballots counted — would be problems of the past.”

New Jersey’s electronic voter databases, modernized in accordance with the Help America Vote Act, can rapidly verify voters’ information uses for its elections, rendering the 21-day registration deadline obsolete. 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.

“Historically, the state instituted the 21-day registration cutoff in order to verify voters’ identities, but advances in technology now make that deadline moot,” said Renee Steinhagen, Executive Director of New Jersey Appleseed. “The state has no legitimate reason to cut off voter registration in the weeks before an election, and consequently voters will feel an even greater impact on their rights.”

New Jersey’s overly strict registration regulations disproportionately deny the right to vote to young adults, who move more frequently than older adults. Poll workers in 2009 denied Rutgers student Gabriela Grzybowski a provisional ballot, which would have registered to vote for the next election, when her name was omitted from the rolls. When she attempted to re-register in 2010, she discovered she had missed the deadline.

Rutgers student Beth Breslaw faced a similar situation in 2010. An injury put Breslaw in crutches, preventing her from traveling to Mercer County, where she was registered. She tried to vote in Middlesex County, where she was a resident, but the 21-day rule prevented her ballot from counting in that election, even though it registered her in Middlesex County for the next one.

“Our generation gets an unfair reputation for not being engaged in the political process, but when I look around, that’s just not what I see,” said Matt Cordeiro, Vice President of the Rutgers Student Association, a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “I see students desperate to have a say in their democracy, but when they come up against hurdles every step of the way, they question whether the system is functional enough for their vote to count.”

Other students have suffered from administrative failure in processing applications collected through voter-registration drives, including plaintiff and Rutgers student Edward Vasconellos, who had no recourse when his name didn’t appear on the rolls in both 2007 and 2008. His provisional ballot registered for the next election, but because he could not prove he had registered 21 days before the previous election, his vote in that election did not count.

The case, captioned Rutgers University Student Assembly v. Middlesex County Board of Elections, was filed in Middlesex County Superior Court.

Voter Groups Go To Court To Fight For Voting Rights of Students

October 27, 2010
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TRENTON – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, Project Vote and the Fair Elections Legal Network today submitted a brief seeking to ensure that the Department of Education fulfill a twenty-five-year old mandate to protect the voting rights of private, charter, and public school students, which the DOE has thus-far failed to meet.

“It is appalling that 25 years after the High School Voter Registration Law was issued, there are still no regulations on the books protecting the rights of private and charter school students under the law, and only the most minimal of protections for district public school students,” said Ed Barocas, the ACLU-NJ legal director.

In 1985, New Jersey passed a law giving all eligible high school seniors the right to receive a voter registration form and voter education as they neared adulthood. The law required the DOE to pass regulations to effectuate the law and ensure compliance. But the DOE never did. And even when the DOE earlier this year created a minimal and insufficient compliance requirement for public schools, it still wholly ignored the rights of students at private and charter schools.

In June of this year, the DOE turned down the voting rights groups’ formal request to tighten the oversight requirements. The groups therefore took state educators to court. This appeal of the DOE decision is based on a section of the voter law that says the commissioner of education “shall adopt” regulations on the voting law.

“The result is that students in 40 to 60 percent of school districts are not being educated about a fundamental aspect of our democracy, or are not receiving the tools they need to register and to vote,” stated Robert Brandon, president of the Fair Elections Legal Network. “When Governor Tom Kean signed the law in 1985, it was out of a civic-minded purpose to fight low rates of voter registration and voting that tend to occur among youth. Today’s lawsuit asks the State to honor that promise to New Jersey’s students and enforce their rights under the voting laws.”

The case is especially important for the over 13,000 students who graduate from private and charter schools every year. The State doesn’t monitor those schools at all for compliance with the voter registration law.

The 84,000 students who graduate annually from New Jersey public schools will also benefit from this case, which asks the appeals court to bolster state oversight and monitoring over their voter registration practices for public schools. Currently, school administrators must check a box on a 144-page checklist, once every three years, to affirm compliance. That is the extent of oversight imposed by the State about the voting laws.

According to Census Department figures, youths age 18-24 vote at far lower rates than their older counterparts. The past two presidential elections years have shown gaps ranging from 12 to 23 percent between the rates of youth voter registration and turnout and the voter registration and turnout of the population as a whole.

Estelle Rogers of Project Vote noted that her group is engaged in a year-long project to register 100,000 high school students in five states. “Research shows that it is possible to create long-term change by encouraging life-long civic participation from young people,” said Rogers. “School-based voter registration drives are one of the best ways of accomplishing this change,” she added.

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ACLU-NJ Celebrates 50 Years on the Front Lines of Freedom

June 16, 2010
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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:

  • Defended the rights of women in schools, from a tennis star (represented by Ruth Bader Ginsburg) who won the right to play on the high school boys' tennis team, to the Princeton student who turned its Ivy League all-male eating clubs co-ed.
  • Blocked a bill requiring a "one-minute period of silence" for prayer in public schools in 1983.
  • Defended 12 motorists who had been racially profiled on the New Jersey Turnpike in the late 1990s.
  • Propelled New Jersey to become the first state in the nation to grant equal standing to gay and lesbian couples jointly adopting in 1997.
  • Successfully challenged the state's ban on late-term abortion in 1998 and a law requiring parents to sign off on a minor's abortion in 2000.
  • Challenged secret detentions and organized locally, fending off attempts to chip away at individual rights following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
  • Defeated local laws written to exclude immigrants from housing, won humane working conditions for immigrants, and helped enforce the rights of young immigrants to attend public school.
  • Established stronger First Amendment protections in schools and malls, as well as developments run by homeowners associations.

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,

"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's Public Housing Opens Doors to Free Speech

March 11, 2010
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NEWARK - The ACLU-NJ announced a free speech victory yesterday for Newark's political candidates, who will now be able to extend their campaigns within the walls of Newark's public housing complexes.

"The right to engage in political activity is fundamental to American democracy," said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas. "Fortunately, candidates in Newark can now exercise their right to campaign freely, and residents of Newark will have the right to tap into the free flow of information."

The Housing Authority drafted a new rule and clarified existing ones after the ACLU-NJ contacted the housing authority expressing concern after hearing reports from City Council hopefuls John Sharpe James, Darrin Sharif and Louis Shockley that the NHA had silenced their constitutionally protected speech.

As in previous years — and as famously documented in the film Street Fight chronicling the candidacy of Newark Mayor Cory Booker — office-seekers reported their thwarted attempts to talk to residents door-to-door and use community rooms for campaign events. One candidate reported that the housing authority forced him to leave an outdoor townhouse complex where he had tried to make contact with voters, shutting residents out of the political process as a result.

After ACLU-NJ prodding, the housing authority confirmed that candidates can now hold political events in apartments' community rooms, discuss campaign issues door-to-door with tenants in townhouse complexes, and accept invitations from public housing residents to speak at political discussions in their homes — under the condition that tenants' associations play no role in the process.

"All I want as a candidate is the right to share my ideas with the residents of Newark, and to then let the residents decide for themselves," said Darrin Sharif, a candidate for Central Ward councilman. "I'm grateful that I can now participate in the democratic process without barriers between me and the people I hope to serve."

The ACLU-NJ has previously challenged numerous Newark policies and actions that infringed on free speech, including: Newark police arresting a newspaper publisher for refusing to turn over photographs the police did not want him to publish, an unconstitutional requirement for people to buy expensive liability insurance before holding marches or demonstrations, and a requirement that anyone distributing leaflets meet the police chief's standards for "good moral character."

In 2008, just as the City Council passed an ordinance firmly ending the insurance requirement, the ACLU-NJ was forced to write another letter to challenge the new ordinance — this time requiring a group of 15 people to secure a permit before gathering or walking down the street. In January 2010, after years of ACLU-NJ advocacy, the City Council finally passed a new ordinance that resolves many of the City's problematic permit policies.

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