Case #2184.0

Strategic Moves & Tough Choices: The Campaign Behind New Jersey’s ‘Ban the Box’ Law

Publication Date: June 30, 2020
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In 2012, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice—an NGO dedicated, in large part, to criminal justice reform—led a campaign to enact a new state law in New Jersey known colloquially as “Ban the Box,” which barred employers from automatically screening out persons with a criminal record when filling a job opening. The Institute had tried to pass such a law four years earlier, but in the face of concerted opposition from the business lobby, the measure had failed. The Institute decided to try again—this time with a smarter, more effective strategy.

The case provides a brief background on mass incarceration, the barriers to reentry for people with a criminal record, the rationale for the Ban the Box movement, and then provides a behind-the-scenes look at NJISJ’s strategic thinking and internal debates. This includes information about NJISJ itself—what strengths and weaknesses does it bring to the table? What considerations will likely sway the state legislature and incoming Republican Governor Chris Christie? What approach to take with respect to employers? Which interest groups to tap, and how? What tone should the messaging take? In negotiations over the language of the bill, how far to bend?

Learning Objective:
This political strategy case invites students to reflect on the roles, principles, and tools of non-profit organizations in lobbying for a bill. How to identify stakeholders; how to use data effectively; how to create a sympathetic narrative; how to understand and address the objections of critics; how to be attuned to the subtext of language in making the case for the bill; how to balance competing concerns in deciding who will be the face of the campaign; how to think about compromise.


Other Details

Case Author:
Pamela Varley
Faculty Lead:
Cornell William Brooks
Pages (incl. exhibits):
United States