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Rutgers Constitutional Litigation Clinic, ACLU Take Felon Disenfranchisement Issue to International Human Rights Group

Racial discrimination charged in petition to OAS body

September 18, 2006 – 
The Constitutional Litigation Clinic at Rutgers School of Law–Newark and the American Civil Liberties Union have petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to rule that New Jersey’s refusal to grant the right to vote to people on parole and probation violates universal human rights principles and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. The IACHR, headquartered in Washington, DC, is a body of the Organization of American States that investigates human rights complaints and issues non-binding decisions. 

The petition, filed on September 14, argues that because more than 60 percent of those on probation or parole in New Jersey are African-American or Latino, barring their voting violates universally accepted human rights standards. “The high percentage of African-Americans and Latinos is in large measure a consequence of racial profiling in the criminal justice system,” said Professor Frank Askin, Director of the Constitutional Litigation Clinic and one of the lead attorneys on the case. “By denying probationers and parolees the right to vote, New Jersey is disproportionately excluding its major racial minority groups from the basic exercise of participatory democracy,” he added. A challenge under the New Jersey Constitution to the state’s felon disfranchisement law was rejected by the Superior Court Appellate Division and review was denied in March by the New Jersey Supreme Court.

The lead petitioners are the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP and the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey. They have asked the IACHR to investigate the claims made in the petition, declare the federal government and New Jersey and other states with similar voting restrictions to be in violation of universal human rights standards, and to urge all states to bring their felon disfranchisement laws into line with these standards. “Although it is true that the IACHR cannot compel action by the state of New Jersey, we believe that the moral suasion of such an eminent hemispheric body would be taken very seriously by New Jersey officials,” said Professor Askin.