Newark, NJ – Last October, New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center and Emery Celli Brinkerhoff & Abady, LLP filed suit against the State of New Jersey on behalf of three alternative political parties, arguing that state statutes barring their clients from official “political party” recognition were unconstitutional and discriminatory. On October 17, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Neil H. Shuster, Presiding Judge of the Chancery Division, Mercer County, signed a Consent Order granting equal treatment to alternative political parties in New Jersey. The Order eliminates some of the structural advantages long enjoyed by the Democratic and Republican Parties. The State conceded that New Jersey election law should treat alternative parties as official “political parties” for the purposes of campaign finance, lobbying, and voter registration.
Joint Press Release
GREEN PARTY OF NEW JERSEY
NEW JERSEY CONSERVATIVE PARTY
NEW JERSEY LIBERTARIAN PARTY, INC
NEW JERSEY APPLESEED PUBLIC INTEREST LAW CENTER
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 22, 2007
JUDGE’S ORDER GRANTS EQUAL TREATMENT TO ALTERNATIVE POLITICAL PARTIES IN NEW JERSEY
NJ Election Law Judged "Void and Unenforceable"
Newark, NJ - Last October, New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center and Emery Celli Brinkerhoff & Abady, LLP filed suit against the State of New Jersey on behalf of three alternative political parties, arguing that state statutes barring their clients from official "political party" recognition were unconstitutional and discriminatory. On October 17, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Neil H. Shuster, Presiding Judge of the Chancery Division, Mercer County, signed a Consent Order granting equal treatment to alternative political parties in New Jersey. The Order eliminates some of the structural advantages long enjoyed by the Democratic and Republican Parties. The State conceded that New Jersey election law should treat alternative parties as official "political parties" for the purposes of campaign finance, lobbying, and voter registration.
In the Order, the Green Party of New Jersey, the New Jersey Conservative Party, and the New Jersey Libertarian Party are all granted equal treatment with the State’s official "political parties" (Democratic and Republican) in two defined areas: campaign finance and lobbying rights. The parties will enjoy official "political party committee" status for the purpose of the contribution limits in the New Jersey Campaign Contributions and Expenditures Reporting Act. In this way, these parties can raise money from individuals at the same levels as the Democrats and Republicans, and like those parties, can give unlimited contributions to their candidates. Furthermore, they will no longer pay lobbying fees - a privilege long held by the State’s official political parties.
The Order also removed restrictions on ballot petitioning by out-of-district petitioners. It similarly declared "void and unenforceable" a provision that required general election nomination petition signers to promise to support and vote for the candidate named in the petition. It also stipulated that the New Jersey Conservative Party would be included on New Jersey’s voter registration form and party declaration form - something already achieved by the Greens and Libertarians.
While the Order does not change the criteria for official political party designation, it does make strides toward making New Jersey a more hospitable place for alternative political parties. New Jersey has the nation’s most restrictive definition of a "political party." To qualify, a party must attain 10% of the total vote cast in the State Assembly races. Only the Democrats and Republicans have been able to meet this criterion since they themselves established it in 1920. According to the Order today, alternative political parties will at least be entitled to equal treatment in several areas that will enhance their ability to compete. Steve Spinosa, New Jersey Conservative Party Secretary, stated that "this decision may provide the impetus for a rebirth and a new beginning for the New Jersey Conservative Party."
George DeCarlo, Chair of the Green Party of New Jersey, felt that the decision was a step in the right direction. "Settlement of this current action continues efforts to end the bigotry of American politics - the enforcement of ballot access regulations against alternative political parties. This step towards equal free speech and political rights marks a positive move being agreed to by both sides and is celebrated."
Kenneth Kaplan, State Committee Member, New Jersey Libertarian Party, said, "We used to mock the elections in the Soviet Union because the only people who could run against the Communists were other Communists. It hasn't been much different in New Jersey, except that we had two parties, Democrats and Republicans, conspiring to prevent any other party from participating. This settlement is a giant step toward opening the system to other parties."
Eric Hecker, a partner at Emery Celli Brinkerhoff & Abady, LLP, lauded the Order, stating: "This settlement is an important step toward undoing the largely successful efforts by the two dominant political parties in New Jersey - the Democrats and the Republicans - to monopolize the political stage and stifle any and all meaningful competition from alternative political parties."
Renée Steinhagen, Executive Director of New Jersey Appleseed and co-counsel in the suit, felt that the victory in the case was somewhat incomplete. "It’s wonderful that some of the unequal treatment of these parties has been remedied," she said, "but the next step needed to make third-party candidates a viable choice in the minds of voters requires exploration of other voting methods. With other methods, such as range voting or instant runoff voting, the voter can do more than vote for only one candidate while essentially voting against all the others. Alternative methods can allow voters to score or rank all the candidates, giving voters’ second-choice candidates (and third, etc.) a fighting chance. Only when citizens are assured that a vote for a third party candidate will truly count will the people of New Jersey have the choices at the polls that they deserve."
The Final Judgment by Consent is available online in its entirety at: Final Consent Decree.
New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center is a non-profit, non-partisan agency that addresses systemic social and political problems at the root of injustice in New Jersey. NJ Appleseed has made significant strides in joining the skills and resources of the legal community with other advocacy groups, and provides a legal voice for those constituencies who otherwise would not be heard in the public debate. We are engaged in important work in election process reform, health care reform, rights for low wage workers and immigrants, and corporate and government accountability.