11/17/14: Associate Editor Posts
For Public or For Profit? University Property Tax-Exempt Status Challenged
By Min Xue
Traditionally, universities are given tax-exempt status under both federal and state law supported by the notion that schools, as educational institutions, provide public benefits, and are therefore worthy of public support. However, these days many universities engage in commercial activities such as patent and trademark licensing, venture capital, retail business, real estate, and certain investment operations that may be profit seeking in nature. The changing universities’ behavior of mixing educational and non-educational activities has raised questions as to whether they are worthy of tax exemption status any more.
Residents of the Borough of Princeton challenged Princeton University’s property tax-exempt status by filing a complaint alleging that the school violated the New Jersey tax-exempt provisions by earning hundreds of millions of dollars in patent royalty income, among other commercial enterprises, and sharing that income with certain faculty members.
New Jersey statute N.J.S.A 54:4-3.6 sets forth the qualifications for an exempt organization. As illustrated in Paper Mill Playhouse v. Township of Millburn, three criteria must be met under the statute: (1) the organization that owns the property must be organized exclusively for exempt purposes; (2) its property must be actually and exclusively used for the tax-exempt purpose; and (3) the organization’s operation and use of its property must not be conducted for profit.
With respect to the first prong, it is not arguable that Princeton is organized for a non-profit purpose. With respect to whether the individual buildings are actually and exclusively used for the tax-exempt purpose, it comes down to the function of each building and how the profits are utilized. The third prong appears to be the most difficult one, which is whether the university itself operates for profit. If the court finds Princeton University is operating for profit, invalidation of its property tax-exempt status in total may be warranted. If the commercial activities conducted by the university exceed the scope of educational purpose, the university is more akin to a profit-making corporation in essence, which may no longer be worthy of public support.
Game-changer in Silicon Valley
By Stephen Sainato
There exists a recent controversy surrounding the “employer-provided meals” in Silicon Valley at companies such as Google and Facebook. Currently, employees, as a perquisite of working at one of these companies, can indulge in virtually endless amounts of “free” food—from snacks to fine dining prepared by top chefs. As a top priority for the upcoming fiscal year, the I.R.S. is considering the taxability of such “free” food. The main issue is whether the employees must include its “employer-provided meals” as taxable income, measured by the fair market value of the meals.
Generally, employees enjoy the ability to exclude these meals from their taxable income if two tests are met: (i) the meals are furnished on the business premises of the employer; and (ii) the meals are furnished for the convenience of the employer. The I.R.S. has been and will likely continue to be arguing such meals to this extent should be taxable fringe benefits, while employers are arguing these meals should remain excludable from income and thus non-taxable. The new “guidance” to be issued by the I.R.S. will almost unquestionably result in a heated debate, and many are predicting the debate to find its way into the courts.
By allowing employers to provide perquisites like these, which can amount to a significant value, the economy is distorted and can equip some employers with an unfair advantage over other employers since these perquisites can be tax deductible for employers and non-includable as taxable income for employees. The new regulation that is forecasted to be provided by the I.R.S. relatively soon, will likely cause a significant impact on corporations—forcing them to restructure their compensation packages and revisit their tax planning strategies.
“Welfare as ‘we’ know it”
By Dan Giordano
When the conditions in the economy are such that the cost of poor relief rises, reform movements begin the work of persuading the public that it needs to, in President Clinton’s phrase, “end welfare as we know it.” The modern state is often described as the “welfare state” in part because reform movements have convinced the people that they ended welfare as they knew it and therefore the lessons from the significant history of civil poor relief are forgotten.
Welfare as we know it (PROWRA) is a cooperative federalism program where a block grant is given to states for poor relief to families provided that the states expend a benchmark amount on programs which further the purpose of the modern law. This provides flexibility to the states to administer to the poor in a variety of ways while also recognizing that there is a national interest in administering to the poor throughout the United States.
Block grants are a two-sided coin however. On the other side of flexibility is abuse of that discretion. Since the Great Recession began, states began looking for funding loopholes in their budgets. They began to take programs which were previously funded independently and placed them in the matching funds requirement for the PROWRA grant. This in effect displaced the funds which were supposed to be spent on poor relief. Today only 27% of welfare spending is on basic assistance.
Welfare as we know it began as a quiet section of the Social Security Act. It was meant to eliminate problems associated with settlement requirements by recognizing a national interest in administering to the poor. It was to be coupled with a local administrative structure which devolved discretion to counties and localities. This basic structure of national funding and local administration was a synthesis of the poor relief which had been administered in this country since the colonial period and in England since the early 17th century.
The Elizabethan system was funded locally and administered locally. This, however, became extraordinarily expensive during the transition from agrarian to industrialization. The towns which saw their poor rates accelerate were also the towns impacted most by this transition in the economy and they more rapidly disappeared because of the local responsibility to fund the poor relief.
The reform movement which followed exposed the futility of local funding/local administration of poor relief. Its unsuccessful solution, though was national funding for national administration. This method of poor relief was administered for almost 100 years until the modern welfare state was “born” in the 1930’s. The rigidity necessary to administer poor relief nationally is familiar to popular culture in Dickensian poor-houses and Chaplin films. Thus the history of poor relief points towards a nationally funded and locally administered poor relief.
While there is much criticism of the modern welfare state, it may be the best available way to administer to the poor. However, the flaws of loopholes in cooperative federalism has distorted the amount spent funding welfare yielding inefficient delivery and the professionalization of what was once a social service in the bureaucracy has standardized the distribution of poor relief according to the rigid guidelines that proved ineffective according to Charles Dickens. This has consequently distorted the structure of civil poor relief which we are the fortunate heirs of, that is local administration of national poor relief.
However, Paul Ryan’s recent plan may provide the necessary solution. His plan is to put local charity networks in competition with each other for their performance in moving people off welfare. Cutting out a professionalized bureaucracy and restoring local social workers role in the administration of poor relief may be the best way to reform welfare as we know it using what we’ve learned from welfare as our ancestors knew it.
A Photo Worth a Thousand Words
By Laura Schuman
Our image is one of our most valuable assets. It can convey our deepest feelings and emotions and reveal to the world our truest selves. But the copyright to these images can belong to a stranger. All rights to sell, alter, or publish lie with a man or woman whom we may hire to take photos of a very special occasion or intimate moment that we may intend only for our own enjoyment and not for the prying eyes of others.
In examining the Federal Copyright Act and the “work for hire” provision, it is clear that copyright ownership in these images all lay with the photographer by default. From experience, photographers are not quick to part with this right and if they do concede copyright in images they took, it comes at a very high price. The historic reasoning for why the copyright vests in the photographer is because they are seen as the artist who created the setting, the costume, and evoked the emotion of the subject. But this was based on the old practice of studio portraiture. It does not take in to account the exponential growth in the field of photography, the predominance of internet use in today’s world, and the creation of social media platforms.
It is therefore necessary to look to state laws governing the rights of privacy or rights of publicity to determine how we can protect ourselves, as individual consumers, from this very literal taking of our images; our identities; our most valuable asset as people in this age of technology. In the moment it takes to click a button and publish a photo on the “world wide web”, our reputations can be damaged, our relationships harmed, and our most intimate secrets placed on display for public consumption. This seems even stranger when we are the ones paying for these images to be created in the first place.
We should explore the roots and potential remedies for both the photographer (as an “artist”) and the individual consumer so both can profit without harming the other. Hopefully, we can come to a delicate balance between full copyright ownership and what this means in a very real sense for today’s unwitting consumer hiring a professional to take photos of them and their loved ones, and the potential repercussions for doing so.
Solitary Confinement of Transgender Prisoners
By Pooja Patel
Many transgender inmates—particularly women—are not housed in cells with other inmates of their preferred gender, supposedly because prison personnel are concerned about a high risk of sexual assault. Instead, transgender inmates are often placed in solitary confinement or some type of solitary segregation, while other inmates charged with the same crime are placed in cells that afford them more freedom of movement and human contact. The primary reason given for the continuation of this practice is to protect the safety of the inmate. However, placement in solitary often leads to even greater instances of sexual assault, as the actions of prison guards are less accountable in less-public locations. Moreover, in addition to the torturous toll that solitary confinement places on any human being, transgender prisoners are particularly punished, because they are separated and forced to do time in conditions that no not match their behavior or the crime for which they were convicted.
Several other articles have argued how solitary confinement of transgender detainees is unconstitutional (based on an 8th Amendment/cruel and unusual theory), or how segregation of transgender inmates should be treated with stricter scrutiny than rational basis. Instead, we should focus on analyzing existing policy guidelines. One other article, written about five years ago, loosely takes this approach, but there don’t seem to be any academic articles that cover newer developments. We should also examine alternatives, drawing on alternatives proposed by authors of other articles. Last, and most importantly, we should explore case law in various jurisdictions and evaluate the possible constitutional legal claims that can be brought by transgender inmates who are segregated from the general inmate population based on their gender expression rather than their actions.
11/03/14: Associate Editor Posts
Halliburton, Fraud-On-The-Market Presumption Established; What Now?
By Vanessa Wong
In the much awaited securities fraud litigation case Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., the Supreme Court upheld the presumption of reliance standard from Basic v Levinson. To recover damages in a private securities fraud action, investors must prove that they relied on the defendant’s material misstatement or omission in connection with the purchase or sale of a security. Basic held that investors could satisfy the reliance requirement by invoking a rebuttable presumption of reliance, instead of having to prove direct reliance on a misrepresentation, based on the so-called “fraud-on-the-market” theory. The theory posits that, in an efficient market, securities’ prices reflect all publicly available information, including any material misrepresentations. Thus, when an investor buys or sells a stock in the market, he does so “in reliance on the integrity of that price.”
Halliburton, however, is a bittersweet victory for plaintiffs. In that case, the Supreme Court also held that defendants may now attempt to rebut the Basic presumption earlier—at the class certification stage—with evidence of a lack of price impact. Any further obstacles in the way of securities-fraud plaintiffs would not only be harmful to plaintiffs but also be a misdirected stab toward the bigger problem, corporate fraud. Attention should now be paid to corporate fraud and not to the relatively insignificant frivolous suits here and there.
The Fix is in; Commandeering New Jersey Gambling Rights
By Sal Alfieri
New Jersey is known for many things, including unique breakfast meat from the famous Jersey Shore and the land of little Las Vegas, Atlantic City. Atlantic City and gambling attributed to the area have been a major source of income since the first legal casino was approved in 1978. In the past decade, however, Atlantic City casinos have been the victim of a consistent decrease in revenue produced from gambling. In the past year, Atlantic City casinos have dwindled from 12 operating casinos to just 8, most notably the closing of the 2.4 billion dollar failed experiment, Revel Hotel and Casino. Coupled with the closing of casinos is the inevitable job loss for thousands of workers employed in Atlantic City. It is estimated that some 8,000 workers will or have lost their jobs since the struggles to produce income forced closure of a third of New Jersey’s operating casinos. To stick the knife even deeper, neighboring states of Maryland and Pennsylvania have begun to construct casinos of their own, which will be in direct competition to the remaining casinos in Atlantic City.
In an attempt to combat the declining revenue produced from gambling, New Jersey has made national headlines with the proposed introduction of sports gambling. However, the introduction of sports betting is not cut and dry; rather, New Jersey has some major challenges ahead. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (“PASPA”) passed in 1992 prevents a state, other than the four “grandfathered” under PASPA, from promoting, authorizing or licensing sports betting. New Jersey, along with a few other states, has begun to explore the ability to both bypass PASPA and allow sports betting by challenging the constitutionality of the Act. The most compelling of these constitutional challenges against PASPA is the Tenth Amendment Anti-Commandeering challenge. Since the construction of the U.S. Constitution, states have held their individual sovereignty. With this sovereignty comes the power to control the outlets chosen to produce internal revenue. The issue has now become whether the enactment of PASPA violates New Jersey’s constitutionally protected right of state sovereignty, bringing into question the fundamental principles of Federalism. Regardless of the outcome, New Jersey’s case against PASPA will reinvigorate ideas of Federalism and in the end will leave a clear picture of how, in this day and age, the Tenth Amendment operates to protect a state’s individual rights.
Minimally Manipulated (according to the FDA)
By Caroline Stewart
In February of this year in United States v. Regenerative Sciences, LLC, the DC Circuit affirmed the FDA’s jurisdiction to regulate development and commercialization of a patient’s adult own stem cells as a new drug or biological product, subject to “human cell, tissue and tissue-based products” (HCT/Ps) regulations. This means that even private medical practices must conduct clinical trials and obtain approval before marketing, comply with current good manufacturing practices, and meet specific labeling requirements for these “drugs,” even when they are used to treat the patients from which the cells came. With respect to this particular case, the FDA likely harbored a fear that culturing the patients’ cells could cause them to become carcinogenic, but one of the rationales for categorizing the patients’ own (autologous) cells as drugs was the degree of manipulation required to create the therapy.
There are two other recent FDA actions that further call into question the FDA’s broad authority to exercise control over a wide range of HCT/P products. For instance, in August 2013, MiMedx received an “Untitled Letter” from the FDA that stated that the company’s micronized allografts (amniotic/chorionic tissue for transplant to other patients) do not meet the HCT/P requirements because they are more than “minimally manipulated.” These micronized allografts have been commercially available for years and have previously withstood FDA scrutiny. In another example, in September 2013, OvaScience also received an “Untitled Letter” advising the company to file an Investigational New Drug Application (IND) for their AUGMENT treatment. AUGMENT is not a drug, but rather a process by which a woman’s eggs are injected with mitochondria from her own egg precursor cells during in vitro fertilization (IVF) in order to potentially improve the success of IVF.
The current HCT/P framework is too restrictive and should be re-designed. In particular, regulations should be tailored for the subcategories of products or therapies. Otherwise, the FDA may be viewed as overstepping its boundaries by interfering with doctors’ practice of medicine, a state function, such as with Regenerative Sciences or OvaScience, or FDA may also be viewed as acting arbitrarily with respect to enforcing its own regulations, as with MiMedx.
Where Have All The Innovators Gone: A Critique of the United States’ Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act
By Joyce Lee
The life sciences industry is poised for growth, and amongst its biggest drivers are an aging population, increasing prevalence of chronic diseases, greater access to medications worldwide, technological advancements and product innovation, and impending healthcare reform that would increase government funding and insurance coverage.
And perhaps of the most exciting areas of life sciences today, the biosimilar market may also be one of the most lucrative. In a September 29, 2014 Thomson Reuters BioWorld report, analysts estimate that, by 2020, biosimilars will account for about $25 billion out of $100 billion in sales for off-patent biologics. With 245 biopharma companies in markets throughout the world and 700 follow-on biologics therapies in the pipelines (many already approved), the investor world is going abuzz with biosimilar talk. Nonetheless, despite all the activity, Sandoz was the first company to file for biosimilar approval in US on July 24, 2014, and if approved, it could be the first biosimilar to market in the US. This is in stark contrast with the European Union, who would have nineteen, and Japan, who would have six.
The United States developed a regulatory pathway for the approval of biosimilar products, the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (BPCIA) of Title VII of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The BPCIA amends the Public Health Service Act (PHSA) to allow biosimilar manufacturers an abbreviated approval process for their products under section 351(k). While the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released three draft guidance documents related to implementation of the BPCIA, the BPCIA remains criticized for its lack of clarity, thus causing companies to proceed with trepidation into the US market.
I would like to compare and contrast the US’s regulatory approach to that of the European Union’s European Medicines Agency (EMEA) and the pharmerging markets of China, India and Brazil. I would also like to explore the countries’ guidance regarding clinical trial pathways, safety and efficacy measures, comparative assessments between the reference product and the proposed product (e.g. pharmacokinetic, pharmacodynamic, and immunogenicity studies), substitutability and interchangeability issues, and the use of foreign comparative data. With all these considerations in mind, I would like to discuss whether the abbreviated pathway for approval under the BPCIA sufficiently fosters the entry of biosimilar products into the US market as compared to the rest of the world.
Increased Involvement of the Children in Child Welfare Cases
By Pavitra Badami
Advocates and professionals involved in the arena of child welfare have been expressing the need for increased inclusion of youth and children in the child hearings. As a result, states such as New Jersey have devised different plans and benchmarks for the mandatory attendance of a minor during court hearings. I seek to advise the legislature of New Jersey to statutorily enable children to attend every court hearing concerning their future placement and displacement from their homes. Currently, the state of NJ requires that a minor be given notice to attend his own permanency hearing, once a year. However, attending one hearing a year does not increase the participation of minors nor does it assure them an opportunity to always be heard by the courts regarding abuse and neglect matters.
There are few measures that can meaningfully evaluate the role of a minor’s involvement in abuse and neglect court proceedings but sufficient evidence exists to support the assertion that in New Jersey, children play a passive role in expressing their goals and needs to the professionals and the legal system that determines their present and future opportunities. However, New Jersey statutes and court decisions strongly set the foundation for increased involvement of children specifically in child abuse and neglect matters. Currently, as per 11 N.J.S.A. 30:4C-61.2.b, a child is entitled to attend a permanency hearing that will determine the plan the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (the State) has devised for the child. The statute leaves the presence of the child up to the discretion of the deciding Judge and the circumstances presented by the Division and the other litigating parties.
I seek to examine the different statutes and laws governing youth participation in different states across the nation for child welfare court proceedings. Particularly, I will discuss factors contributing to and affecting youth participation in child welfare cases in New Jersey and will use New Jersey statutes and court decisions as the framework to explain current low rates of youth participation. I would further advise the New Jersey Legislature to provide a strong statutory basis for adopting laws that allow for routine youth participation and use child welfare laws in states such as California, New York, and Delaware to increase the participation of children in court, specifically in child abuse and neglect cases. Lastly, I will examine the benefits and limitations of increased youth participation in court proceedings and its feasibility given the restraints on the legal system’s resources.
10/27/14: Associate Editor Posts
Eminent Domain and the idea of “Blight” in Brooklyn (Williamsburg): Displacing Low-Income Minorities with Affluent, Young, White Professionals..
By Jay Stephens
New York City is currently experiencing its biggest housing boom in decades. The nationwide economic recession which occurred only a few years ago, which brought the housing market to record lows, seems to be a thing of the past as hundreds of developers from all over the world are vying for prime New York City real estate, at lofty prices, to construct new upscale residential buildings. These residential buildings, ranging from two to three story luxury lowrises to pent house style units soaring hundreds of feet above ground, offer elaborate amenities and panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline. As Manhattan continues to develop, empty parking lots and other deserted land has become limited, and developers have resorted to receiving special permits from the city to purchase buildings aging over one hundred years old in order to demolish them to make way for these residential buildings.
These buildings have not only housed historic businesses first started generations ago as family businesses, but they also include affordable housing units built for low to middle income residents. In New York City’s largest borough, Brooklyn, developers have flooded into these culturally established neighborhoods, displacing residents who have called these places their home for decades. The neighborhood of Williamsburg has been one of the most affected by gentrification. Whites increased their number in what the Planning Department refers to as Williamsburg-North Side/South Side by 10,245 and their share of the population from 34% to 52%. The Latino population declined in this neighborhood by almost 25% (from a population share in 2000 of 57% — 22,923 people — to just under 38% in 2010 (17,268). Whites also increase their presence in Williamsburg (5,041) and East Williamsburg (4,444). Overall, Brooklyn’s population grew by 39,000 people. The White population grew by 38,774 while the Asian population increased by 75,838. Blacks lost almost 50,000 people (-49,517).
There are several questions to be answered by this: (1) Do minorities still lack a voice within their communities? (2) Is there a lack of Due process in the government confiscating property for real estate investors through eminent domain? (3) Does the situation of gentrification and displacement of low and moderate income individuals show preference toward keeping the wealthy satisfied? (4) What advantages, if any, does this new issue present to the local government in these municipality?
The New Jersey Thorough and Efficient Clause
By Tori Bell
Ever since Brown v. Board of Education, the states and courts have been struggling with what is “equal education” and what actions states need to take in order to provide this. The concept of what equal education is changes between States because education is not a “right” in our United States Constitution. What is required in order to provide an equal education depends on whether or not States put education as a right in their constitutions. The battle does not end by putting education as a right in the constitution, it depends on the state courts and how they interpret the right and instruct the legislatures and people on what tools guarantee that right. New Jersey in 1875 created the Thorough and Efficient Clause in the New Jersey Constitution. The problem with the clause is that although it sounds great in theory, it has been hard to apply in practice. The courts have long battled with what is required to guarantee a “thorough and efficient” education.
The Thorough and Efficient Clause lays out what is required by the Legislature. The clause requires that the Legislature provide the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of free public schools for the instruction of all the children in the State between the ages of five and eighteen years. Looking at the clause on its face is not very clear. What exactly makes a thorough and efficient system of free public schools? Is it increasing graduation rates or guaranteeing poor children get the same education as their rich counterparts.
Two cases, Abbott v. Burke (790 A.2d 842) and Robinson v. Cahill (355 A.2d 129), examined the Thorough and Efficient clause and interpreted it as utilizing equal finances in order to help create a through and efficient system of public schools. The instinct is to think that financing alone is not the solution to equal education. We all know from personal experience that throwing money at the problem never truly solves anything; it just masks it for a while. The courts also realized that finances alone were not going to establish the through and efficient educational system that the State Constitution had in mind. The court in Robinson recognized that there are other factors besides equalizing finances. The problem is that the court recognizes what we all recognize, that is money is not the answer, but there are not a lot of decisions that gives us guidance to other ways to create this thorough and efficient system.
What interpretations of the Through and Efficient Clause do we need in order to battle our problem with the New Jersey Schools? Does the answer lie with requiring racial and economical quotas or with stricter teacher requirements? Is funding the only achievable thing that can help the schools? Do the programs we have in place like the Abbot Districts, No Child Left Behind and Inter-District School Choice Programs help further this idea of a thorough and efficient education? The answers lie in the future court interpretations of the clause and the statistics given for each of these programs.
When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going: The Case of Gang Recruits and Former Gang Members Seeking Asylum in the U.S.
By Melody Mendoza
At the heart of refugee law is the ideal that remedies such as asylum and withholding of removal are only for the helpless, men, women, and children who are persecuted in their countries on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. However, contrary to this principal, many victims of persecution have been denied protection because they do not fit squarely in the legal framework of asylum adjudication. Specifically, there are various reasons why former gang members and gang recruits are being denied asylum and withholding of removal in the United States. For instance, youth seeking safety within our borders after being targeted for gang recruitment frequently fail to meet the particularity and social distinction criteria of the particular social group analysis.
In response to this and many other obstacles, there are four distinct regulatory changes that can be made to the way in which claims by this class of refugees are adjudicated. First, social visibility and particularity should be stream lined into a single requirement. Second, there should be a regulation that defines gender as a sufficiently particular group to support a grant of asylum or withholding of removal. Further, this regulation should establish that violent gang recruitment of young men and boys occurs “on account of gender.” Third, in light of the asylum bar for those who are found to have committed “a serious nonpolitical crime,” the legislature should create a narrow exception to this bar in order to protect children who joined gangs in hopes of survival but have renounced the gang and now seek emancipation in the United States. Fourth, refusal to join a gang or permanent withdrawal from a gang should be considered a political opinion for asylum and withholding of removal purposes. These changes will provide more protection to well deserving refugees without opening the floodgates. Further, these revisions will serve to combat the rise of transnational gangs by serving as form of prevention for further gang expansion and rehabilitation of former gang members.
NJ’s Mental Health Commitment Law Poses Civil Liberties Issues
By Joseph Leopardi
The topic of this article will be the potential civil liberties violations that the New Jersey Mental Health Commitment Law poses for mental health patients. This law, which was passed five years ago, grants New Jersey judges the authority to mandate potentially dangerous people into mental health treatment. Earlier this year, Governor Christie dedicated an additional $4.5 million to expand the program into all 21 counties. Previously, only six of the state’s counties – Burlington, Essex, Hudson, Ocean, Warren and Union – have offered the controversial program, which assigns patients to intensive case management to ensure they have housing, are seeking employment, and receiving necessary treatment. Patients who fail to comply and are deemed by their treatment team to be a danger to themselves or others can be ordered by a judge to be committed into a psychiatric hospital.
One of the major impetuses for the expansion of the program was the rash of mass shootings that occurred in the U.S. in 2012. There were no less than 16 mass shootings across the country that year, leaving at least 88 people dead, including 12 people who were shot to death while attending a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises and 26 people who were killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Following these tragedies, there was much public anxiety across the nation about violence from mentally unstable people. Proponents of the law say that incidents such as these could have been prevented if these people received the treatment they needed before committing such acts. The law has divided the mental health community. Mental health professionals in Essex and Union counties have credited the program with helping to reduce violence, homelessness, arrests and hospitalizations, while opponents claim that the law violates patients’ constitutional rights.
As someone who has worked as a counselor for people with severe mental illnesses, this is a subject matter that hits home for me. I’ve witnessed the dramatic changes in mood, personality, and behavior that can occur when patients stop taking their prescribed medications or withdraw from treatment for a lengthy time, as well as the propensity for violent outbursts. However, they are human beings first and foremost, and deserve the same rights as any other human being. Furthermore, considering that most of these shooting are perpetrated by individuals who do not have an extensive mental health history, we have to ask how efficacious a mental health commitment law would be in preventing such incidents.
In addition to examining the possible civil liberties violations, there are other issues related to the mental health commitment law, such as the stigma associated with mental illness diagnoses, the quality of care in NJ treatment facilities, recent psychiatric hospital closings in NJ, and overcrowding in the remaining NJ psychiatric hospitals and treatment programs. We should explore alternative approaches to improving mental health across the state, such as improved funding for mental health facilities and implementing more mental health courts. Such courts, which operate similar to drug courts, can be used as an alternative to incarceration for mentally ill people convicted of a crime to help reduce the percentage of mentally ill people in the prison system.
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