National Organization for Women of New Jersey calls forstrict adherence of the one-man/one-woman rule in theformation of Political County Committees
The National Organization for Women of New Jersey is alarmed by a challenge issued by severalgroups in New Jersey led by the Central Jersey Progressive Democrats.On Thursday, a lawsuitwas filed in Superior Court to overturn the 70-year-old state law requiring seats on countypolitical committees to be divided equally between men and women.
NewJersey statute N.J.S.A. 19:5-3, often referred to as the “county committee election statute,”isfound in the bylaws of both parties. The argument is that removal of this statute to allow twowomen to serve from a single districtand thereby increase female membership in the countyparties. Thiscontention,while noble, seeks to overturn internal rules of private organizations.Moreover, we believe that this is a misguided assumption. In fact, we anticipate anddemonstrate that the suspension of this statute will result in more cases of two males serving asingle district than two females.
To state that this rule is ‘antiquated’ and ‘is no longer needed’ or that “[g]ender should not play arole in politics in this day and age’ is absurd. This buys into an assumption that women haveachieved equality and no longer need reinforcement by statute to ensure equal representation.We reject the idea that the statuesomehow demeans women or "suggest[s] an inferior view of awoman's ability..."and argue that it wasin effect put in place to ensure that the intelligence andability of a woman was present and given equal account.
While it is true that women have made many strides in politics, it is no secret that we areseverely underrepresented. Women are over 51% of the electorate and yet in New Jersey, womenserve in 37 of 120 seats of our legislature (30.8%) and only two of our 14 federal representativesare female (14.3%).Women not come far enough in politics in New Jersey to abandonthe littlebit of legislation that supportsgender equity.
“In New Jersey, women in politics still face an uphill battle.At the local level the number ofwomen mayors is at around a dismal 15%.Not only do we not have enough women in leadershiproles currently, we lack a bench to recruit from. This rule ensures that women who want toengage politically will get a fair share of the seats at the table, thereby providing women at thelocal level with a point of entry to become involved,” says Mayor Colleen Mahr, Executive VicePresident of the Union County chapter of the National Organization for Women and First ViceChair of the Union County Democratic Committee.
One place that women in politics could be guaranteed parity was in representation in the CountyCommittees of the Democratic and Republican parties due to the stipulated rule. Now even thatis in jeopardy. In recent years, county clerks in Cumberland, Essex, Hunterdon, Mercer andPassaic have chosen to move away from the statute. Close inspection of the committee lists inthose counties reveals that the county committees have in factresulted in overwhelminglymore male/male pairs serving a district rather than female/female (in more than a 3:2 ratio). It also does not come as a surprise that the only county party committeewhere there ARE more women serving (Hunterdon Democrats) is led by a woman.
“Having been involved in politics in New Jersey for the last twenty years, the push to abandon alaw that has only served to enhance the role of women in the Party is truly frustrating. I serve ina leadership role as one of only a few women, so I speak from a position of knowledge andunderstanding. The rooms I go into rarely have more than a couple of women at the table.Abandoning this law in the guise of equality is a misguided attempt to fix a problem that willonly become even worse. Hunterdon County is in a unique position because we have used theopportunity to engage more women. But whatabout when the County Chair does not look likeme– just look at the statistics and that should tell you exactly what will happen...” stated ArleneQuiñones Perez, Chair of the Hunterdon County Democratic Party.
The United States Supreme Court has made it clear that it is not for the legislature to interfere inthe structure of a political organization. In its ruling,Eu v. San Francisco County DemocraticCent. Committee, 489 U.S. 214 (1989),the Courtupheld that“As we noted in Tashjian, apolitical party's "determination . . . of the structure which best allows it to pursue its politicalgoals, is protected by the Constitution." 479 U.S., at 224.'
The National Organization for Women of New Jersey thereby calls on all theCounty Clerks in New Jersey to abide by the bylaws of the political parties andenforce the one-man/one-woman rule. “Again,” says Diane Scarangella, President of theNorthern New Jersey chapter of the National Organization for Women, “we have not come as faras we think or have been lead to believe by the establishment...a myth that supports the statusquo. If we had, we wouldn't see a lack of enforcement. Clearly, we still need both men andwomen to seethe need to advocate for gender equity and this type of statute supports that.”
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