NEWARK - The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today urged Bergen County Sheriff (PDF) Michael Saudino to withdraw his office’s application to the Department of Defense (“DOD”) for two mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, also known as MRAPs. Bergen County’s request for MRAPs contributes to an alarming, discriminatory national trend toward greater militarization of civilian police departments at the expense of civil liberties.
On July 20, The Record reported that Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino had requested two nearly 50,000-pound MRAPs from the DOD as additions to the county’s fleet of vehicles. The ACLU-NJ’s letter, sent to the offices of the Bergen County Sheriff, County Executive, and Board of Chosen Freeholders, emphasizes the potentially dangerous consequences of deploying such heavily armored vehicles, including risks of violence, property destruction and undermined civil liberties.
“No county in New Jersey needs a combat-style military vehicle to protect and serve the community, much less two,” said Ari Rosmarin, Public Policy Director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “Adding these military-grade vehicles to the Bergen County fleet jeopardizes not only public safety, but also the critically important relationship between law enforcement and local communities. Bergen County residents are not an insurgent force, and the equipment used by law enforcement should not make them feel like the enemy.”
Use of equipment intended for military purposes can create a “warrior mentality” among law enforcement, which in turn can cause a community to feel as if they were under siege, damaging trust and cooperation. Disturbingly, this increased militarization disproportionately affects communities of color. In a 2014 national ACLU study on police militarization, War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Police (PDF), the ACLU found that 61 percent of people subjected to deployment of SWAT teams – short for “Special Weapons and Tactics” – for drug raids were people of color, and 54 percent of people subject to SWAT team activity in the execution of search warrants were people of color.
The DOD provides local law enforcement agencies the opportunity to receive retired military equipment for free, known as the “1033 Program,” in reference to its origins in Section 1033 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997. The ACLU, in its report on increasing militarization of domestic police agencies, called on the DOD to add regulations to the 1033 Program that would restrict military equipment only to agencies that demonstrate a specific need for its use. The program itself, as well as the competitive nature of receiving this free equipment, encourages law enforcement to view combat-grade technology as appropriate for its use. The DOD requires agencies to use the equipment it obtains under the 1033 Program within a year of receiving it, giving local officials added incentive to use this equipment once it is obtained.
“There are real consequences to militarizing our law enforcement agencies, including potential discrimination, an environment of fear and mistrust, and increased risk of physical danger for both law enforcement and ordinary citizens,” said Udi Ofer, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “Militarization of law enforcement may be a nationwide trend, but in effect, it disproportionately impacts one specific group: communities of color. The inequities in our criminal justice system mean that the objects of this intimidation, more often than not, will be the same people who face discrimination in our criminal justice system.”
Image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. 2008 by Grippenn.
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.”
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.
NEWARK — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey's (ACLU-NJ) Open Governance Project sued the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Office of Local Code Enforcement today for denying access to plans concerning a road salt storage barn in Bethlehem Township, Hunterdon County. The barn, which stores road salt, was built in 2007 using taxpayer dollars.
Although Carole Chiaffarano, the resident who requested the documents, has already received the building and site plans from Bethlehem Township, she had reason to believe that the construction of the salt barns differed from the plans the township submitted to the DCA and other state agencies for their approval.
Chiaffarano, whose property is 38 feet away from the barn, hoped to compare the municipal documents with the DCA's, but her request was denied. The DCA cited an executive order that allows state agencies to reject requests for public records that could raise the likelihood of terrorism or heighten the impact of an attack.
"I was shocked that my requests were denied because of security reasons," stated Chiaffarano, the plaintiff in the case. "The state's actions leave the Bethlehem community in the dark about whether the barn was built safely and correctly. Since the township's plans are out in the open already, I don't see how comparing two sets of documents poses a risk to anyone."
Chiaffarano, a resident of Bethlehem Township, first requested plans from the DCA in September 2010 hoping to uncover whether the township submitted different versions of the building and site plans for the approval of the DCA and other agencies. In addition to written requests, she called the DCA on Nov. 1 to schedule an office visit to review the plans. She was told that such a review is "prohibited by state law" and that "only the engineer or the owner of the plans" could access records. The agency also denied her requests for the information under the common-law rights that also grant access to public records for New Jersey citizens. Chiaffarano fears that the plans used in the actual construction of the salt barns were not approved by one or more of the appropriate governmental agencies.
"It borders on absurdity that the DCA believes access to records about a barn with plastic windows and one door could put the public at risk," said ACLU-NJ Open Governance Attorney Bobby Conner. "This is an example of a state agency using a ludicrous justification to withhold information from the public."
The ACLU-NJ's Open Governance Project, founded in 2009 through a grant from the Pratt Bequest Fund of Rutgers School of Law-Newark, is dedicated to ensuring that government agencies uphold and enforce the Open Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act throughout New Jersey.
The case, captioned Carole Chiaffarano v. DCA, is pending in the Superior Court of New Jersey in Hunterdon County.
TRENTON — In a press conference scheduled for noon today in room 103 at the Statehouse, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey will stand alongside legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle to support a resolution asking the United States Congress to review new TSA screening procedures at airports that violate privacy, and provide little in the way of security enhancements.
"This technology involves a direct invasion of privacy," said ACLU-NJ executive director Deborah Jacobs, "It produces strikingly graphic images of passengers' bodies, essentially taking a naked picture of air passengers as they pass through security checkpoints."
The ACLU maintains that the likely effectiveness of such a technology in preventing attacks does not justify the level of intrusion involved.
News conference attendees include:
At the press conference, the Legislators will announce the introduction of a resolution urging Congress to immediately review the new TSA screening procedures and the reports of passenger abuse occurring at our nation's airports. Senator James Beach (6th District) will join Senator Doherty in sponsoring the Senate version of the resolution.
NEWARK - The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today filed a Freedom of Information Act request with New Jersey's FBI field offices asking for records regarding the agency's collection of racial and ethnic data in local communities. Joining 31 other ACLU affiliates nationally, the ACLU-NJ seeks more details concerning the FBI's authority as described in the 2008 FBI operations guide to map businesses, behaviors, lifestyles and traditions considered "ethnic-oriented."
"The potential abuse that could stem from the FBI's mapping of America by race demonstrates exactly why transparency is so crucial to a democracy," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. "The public has a right to know what kinds of information the government gathers about ordinary Americans, and the public has a right to know how that information will be used."
The FBI's 2008 Domestic Intelligence and Operations Guide (DIOG) refers to agents' power to collect, use, and map racial and ethnic data to assist its "domain awareness" and "intelligence analysis" activities. The DIOG, first released with heavy redaction in September 2009, was released with fewer redactions this January in response to a lawsuit filed by Muslim Advocates. Still, the public has little access to information about the FBI's implementation of this authority.
"The FBI's mapping of local communities based on race and ethnicity, as well the ability to target investigations based on supposed racial and ethnic behaviors, raises serious civil liberties concerns," said Michael German, ACLU policy counsel and former FBI agent. "Creating a profile of a neighborhood based on the ethnic makeup of the people who live there for law enforcement or domestic intelligence is unfair, un-American and unable to stop crime."
In addition to New Jersey, FOIA requests for the same kinds of information were also filed in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Washington, DC, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia.
The DIOG provisions in question are available online at:
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:
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, https://www.aclu-nj.org
"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.
NEW YORK - The American Civil Liberties Union announced today its discovery that former U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Chris Christie gave approval to track people's precise whereabouts through their cell phones without a warrant.
"This is just the newest example of our privacy rights careening over the edge with federal officials drunk at the wheel," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. "Big Brother is tucked away in our cell phones, and the man behind the curtain is Chris Christie."
Justice Department documents made public today through a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation show that the government is actively taking advantage of GPS or other similarly precise technology to monitor people's coming and goings, specifically in New Jersey as well as Florida, and that it does not always obtain a search warrant beforehand.
"Tracking the location of people's cell phones reveals intimate details of their daily routines and is highly invasive of their privacy," said Catherine Crump, a staff attorney with the ACLU. "The government is violating the Constitution when it fails to get a search warrant before tracking people this way."
Although low-level courts have authorized the tracking, New Jersey and Florida are the only two known states in which federal prosecutors are obtaining court orders for GPS or similarly precise tracking information merely by showing that the tracking information is "relevant and material" to a criminal investigation - a substantially lower burden than the "probable cause" standard required by the Constitution.
The Justice Department itself has stated that federal prosecutors should seek probable cause warrants to obtain precise location data in private areas. Considering the fact that people do not even have an opportunity in court to challenge the tracking, since they are not informed of the proceedings, it's essential that the government have a sufficient legal basis before initiating this surveillance.
The ACLU wishes to participate in such proceedings as amicus curiae in the interest of defending the rights of those potentially subject to tracking.
The ACLU and EFF sued the Justice Department in July 2008 for records related to the government's use of cell phones as tracking devices. Some documents have been turned over but the lawsuit continues over additional information about the government's practices.
Attorneys on the case are Crump of the ACLU, David Sobel of EFF and Arthur Spitzer, Legal Director of the ACLU of the National Capital Area.
NEWARK - After four years of wrangling with the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General, the ACLU-NJ has finally obtained a list of the organizations identified by New Jersey law enforcement as "potential threat elements (PTEs)." These designations, made by municipalities in order to receive funding from Department of Homeland Security grant programs in 2003 and 2004, identified people or groups that law enforcement thought might commit acts of terrorism in the future.
"This has been a long and important battle for open government," stated Gary D. Nissenbaum, Esq. of the Nissenbaum Law Group located in Union, who served as cooperating counsel for the ACLU-NJ. "Our goal was to ensure that no one was targeted for First Amendment activities or religious affiliations, as we have seen in past times of political unrest."
As a result of this lawsuit, the Office of the Attorney General finally provided a List of 59 Entities Containing PTEs it had designated. This disclosure confirmed that no groups were improperly identified as PTEs; none were houses of worship, and no private individuals were identified.
Fourteen of the organizations identified by Hudson County were on either the U.S. Department of State's list of foreign terrorist organizations or the Anti-Defamation League's list of American extremist groups. The fifteenth PTE listed in Hudson County was described as "a well-recognized criminal organization with its roots in El Salvador and Guatemala."
When the ACLU-NJ learned in 2004 that municipalities had to list "potential threat elements" to receive federal grant money, it requested information about the list from municipalities and the state. The concern over identification of private individuals, religious organizations, peace groups or anyone else protected by the First Amendment was heightened by the fact that inclusion on this list would trigger a preliminary investigation by the FBI.
In other states, PTEs and criteria for their designation were placed on public government websites. However, New Jersey's towns refused to do so.
In December 2004, the ACLU-NJ sued former Attorney General Peter Harvey, who then said in September 2005 that his office had not directed towns to deny the requests. Another round of ACLU-NJ requests for information turned up a 2004 memorandum from the Attorney General directing towns not to release potential threat information to the ACLU-NJ.
On August 31, 2006, after the ACLU-NJ sued Harvey again, the Superior Court of New Jersey awarded the ACLU-NJ over $10,000 in legal fees, having found that Harvey inappropriately withheld documents about PTEs. Soon after, the Attorney General's office admitted that three counties had named PTES: Hudson, Cape May and one other county that to this day remains unidentified. As a result of the June 10 Attorney General's Office disclosure, the actual names of the PTEs have now been released as part of a larger list supplied by the Office of the Attorney General.
"Open government is central to democracy," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. "The government can't expect to set policy in the dark and not have people holding up flashlights and asking about secrecy."
NEWARK, N.J. -- Dozens of members and supporters of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today traveled to Washington, D.C. for a Day of Action to Restore Law and Justice. They are joining with thousands of Americans from across the country to attend a rally and then call on Congress to restore habeas corpus, fix the Military Commissions Act, end torture and rendition, and restore our constitutional rights.
"New Jerseyans can no longer stand idly by while our constitutional rights and freedoms are stripped away," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. "We are taking our fight straight to Capitol Hill to hold New Jersey's representatives in Congress accountable and demand that they restore due process, defend the Constitution and protect what makes us Americans."
The ACLU has chartered buses to take participants to Washington, D.C. In New Jersey, buses left from Elizabeth and Princeton, transporting people from all over the state.
Today's action represents an overwhelming grassroots repudiation of the Military Commissions Act -- an act that denies detainees the right of habeas corpus, allows testimony coerced via torture to be used as evidence against them, ignores the Geneva Conventions and gives the president the power to declare anyone an "unlawful enemy combatant" and to detain them indefinitely.
On the day after the June 26 rally in Washington, D.C., the ACLU and other social justice organizations will be organizing a national call-in day to Congress.
To reach your representatives on the June 27 national call-in, call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 (24 hours) and ask the operator to connect you.
Call both of your senators and your representative, and tell the person who answers the phone that you urge Senator or Representative to:
June 26 marks the first time in the ACLU's 87-year history that the organization has convened a national event of this type.
For more information on the Day of Action, visit http://www.juneaction.org