New Jersey constitution calls mentally ill people 'idiots'

Most people would not call those with mental illnesses "idiots," but the New Jersey Constitution still does.

Senate President Richard J. Codey on Monday proposed removing the archaic language, inserted in 1844, through a constitutional amendment. The measure would have to be approved by both houses of the Legislature and by voters in November.

"This is yet another big step toward removing the stigma of mental illness," said Codey, who has been an advocate of the mentally ill since his wife suffered postpartum depression 22 years ago.

Codey wants to change a section of the state constitution that addresses who is eligible to vote, saying: "No idiot or insane person shall enjoy the right of suffrage."

The amendment would replace "idiot or insane person" with "person who has been adjudicated by a court of competent jurisdiction to lack the capacity to understand the act of voting."

Luke Koppisch, a coordinator with the New Jersey Developmental Disabilities Council, which brought the idea to Codey to sponsor, said the old language is insulting, the AP says.

"It harkens back to an era when people with disabilities were treated like second-class citizens," he said.

Six other state constitutions - Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico and Ohio - also contain the "idiots and insane" language pertaining to voting rights, according to the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law in Washington, D.C.

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