Rutgers Law School and ACLU Challenge Denial of Voting Rights in Groundbreaking Lawsuit

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
January 6, 2004 12:00 am

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NEWARK — The American Civil Liberties Union and the Constitutional Litigation Clinic at Rutgers Law School today filed a groundbreaking lawsuit challenging the denial of voting rights to persons on probation or parole in New Jersey.

The lawsuit, the first of its kind nationwide, maintains that because minorities are vastly over-represented in the criminal justice system, state laws denying probationers and parolees the right to vote result in a denial of the New Jersey Constitution’s guarantee of “”equal protection under the law.””

“”It is now well documented that, as a consequence of racial profiling, members of racial minority groups have been investigated, arrested, prosecuted and convicted in New Jersey in numbers totally disproportionate to their propensity to commit crimes,”” said Professor Frank Askin, Director of the Constitutional Litigation Clinic. “”The consequence is that members of the African American and Latino communities are denied an equal opportunity to influence the electoral and political process.””

About 80 percent of parolees and some 60 percent of probationers in New Jersey are of African American or Hispanic origin, Askin said.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP, the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, Councilwoman Patricia Perkins-Aguste and Councilman Carlos J. Alma, both of Elizabeth, and ten individuals on parole or probation.

The ACLU has a long-standing interest in felony disenfranchisement and voting rights issues, noted Deborah Jacobs, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Jersey. Nationally, the ACLU distributes a “”Reclaim Your Vote”” packet to ex-offenders who have finished their sentence and need direction to register to vote. In addition, the ACLU of New Jersey has advocated for voter registration in jails, where many of the prisoners are pre-trial detainees and maintain their right to vote barring a conviction.

“”Not only is it an injustice that minorities are disproportionately affected by felony disenfranchisement in New Jersey, but the state needs to give serious consideration to what interest it serves by denying these individuals the right to vote,”” Jacobs said. “”Allowing probationers and parolees the right to vote is beneficial to our society. It teaches responsibility, gives people a sense of belonging and contribution, and encourages participation in a civic responsibility that we can all agree too few engage in.””

The case was filed in Union County Superior Court in Elizabeth. The lead attorneys are Frank Askin, Director of the Rutgers Constitutional Clinic, assisted by the law students who work for the clinic, and Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, based in Atlanta, Georgia.

The complaint in the case is online at /node/35078

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