TRENTON – The Senate State Government Committee today approved a measure sponsored by Senate President Richard J. Codey that would erase more than 150 years of discrimination in New Jersey’s constitution by removing insensitive and discriminatory language that currently bars certain groups from voting rights. SCR-134 proposes a constitutional amendment that would replace the language that currently reads: “No idiot or insane person should enjoy the right of suffrage.”
“This is yet another big step towards removing the stigma of mental illness,” said Sen. Codey. “We must bring mental health into the new century. The fact that this language has remained in our constitution for so long is a disgrace. Not only is it insensitive, but it does not take into account the individual circumstances of people with varying degrees of disabilities.”
Concurrently, the committee also approved bill S-2476, which would change the state statute that also includes the same language. Sen. Codey’s proposal to remove the offensive language would be placed on the November statewide ballot after approval by both legislative houses.
The following interpretive statement would be included alongside the ballot question: “Approval of this amendment concerning the denial of the right to vote would delete the phrase ‘idiot or insane person’ and replace that phrase with ‘person who has been adjudicated by a court of competent jurisdiction to lack the capacity to understand the act of voting’ in describing those persons who shall be denied the right to vote. The phrase ‘idiot or insane person’ is outdated, vague, offensive to many, and may be subject to misinterpretation. This constitutional amendment acknowledges that individuals with cognitive or emotional disabilities may otherwise be capable of making decisions in the voting booth and that their right of self-determination should be respected and protected in this regard. The amendment only denies the right of suffrage to those individuals determined by a court, on a case-by-case basis, to lack the capacity to understand the act of voting.”
The bill and the resolution now head to the full Senate for a vote, where Sen. Codey is hopeful that it will signal an end to an era of discrimination in New Jersey’s constitution.