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Groups Go International with Fight for Former Prisonersâ€TM Voting Right

by Michelle Chen

*A correction was appended to this news brief after initial publication.

Sept. 19, 2006 – Civil-liberties advocates are appealing to an international human-rights tribunal over New Jersey’s policy of denying some former prisoners the right to vote.

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Last Thursday, attorneys filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an international judicial body, arguing that New Jersey and other states with similar disenfranchisement policies, as well as the United States government, are in violation of internationally recognized human rights.

The main petitioners in the case are two advocacy groups, the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP and the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey. They are represented by lawyers affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union and Rutgers University Law School.

Under New Jersey’s state constitution, people on parole or probation cannot vote in elections. According to the petitioners’ analysis of population data, the law impacts some 100,000 parolees and probationers living in their communities.

The groups argued the restriction reflects the racial bias pervading the law-enforcement, court and prison systems, in the form of racial profiling and disproportionate sentencing patterns. The petitioners estimate that three-quarters of the state’s parolees and over half of probationers are black or Hispanic.

The 71-page petition cites several international human-rights statutes, including the right to vote, the right to freedom from racial discrimination and the right to rehabilitation.

The groups appealed to the Commission after the New Jersey Supreme Court rejected their challenge based on the right to equal protection under the law, as enshrined in both state and federal constitutions.

New Jersey is among the vast majority of states, along with the District of Columbia, with laws that in various ways disenfranchise people with felony convictions. According to the groups’ filing, twelve states have even harsher restrictions that extend beyond post-incarceration sentences; only two states, Maine and Vermont, impose no voting restrictions on prisoners.

The group asked the Commission to pressure the US government to comply with the cited international statutes. However, the Commission, which investigates and rules on human-rights issues in 35 countries in the Western hemisphere, has no actual power to compel any government to take action.


Minor Change:

In the original version of this brief, the term "non-white Hispanic" was erroneously used instead of "Hispanic."

 | Change Posted September 19, 2006 at 12:33 PM EST

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Michelle Chen is a staff journalist.

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