NYCLU Files Court Papers Supporting Paterson’s Appointment of Lieutenant Governor

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
August 7, 2009 12:00 am

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The NYCLU’s Brief (PDF)

The New York Civil Liberties Union today filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Appellate Division, Second Department supporting Governor David A. Paterson’ s recent appointment of Richard Ravitch as lieutenant governor.

The brief in Skelos v. Paterson argues that the constitutional right to a republican form of government embraces the promise of a functioning legislature, but during the month preceding the Ravitch appointment the New York State Senate stopped functioning. The Ravitch appointment assisted in breaking the legislative logjam and helped restore representative democracy to the voters and taxpayers of this state. The courts should consider this corrective measure undertaken by the governor, the NYCLU argues, as it balances the equities in this case.

“The collapse of the State Senate deprived voters and taxpayers of their constitutional right to a functioning legislature during a time of unprecedented fiscal difficulty,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “By appointing Richard Ravitch lieutenant governor, Governor Paterson acted lawfully to restore this fundamental right to New Yorkers.”

After Paterson appointed Ravitch lieutenant governor last month, State Sens. Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, and Pedro Espada Jr., D-Bronx, filed a lawsuit in Nassau County to block the appointment.

Paterson argues that Ravitch’s appointment was authorized by the Public Officers Law, which allows the governor to fill vacancies in elective offices. His opponents contend that the Public Officers Law is superseded by a provision of the New York State Constitution, which assigns the president pro tempore of the State Senate the duties of lieutenant governor during a vacancy.

The NYCLU brief offers an alternative argument for sustaining the position of the governor. This argument rests upon the federal constitution promise of representative democracy and functioning legislatures in each state.

“The Senate impasse constituted a severe breakdown of representative democracy that endangered the constitutional rights of all New Yorkers,” said Arthur Eisenberg, NYCLU legal director. “The governor acted to end the stalemate and provide voters and taxpayers the government to which they are entitled under the federal Constitution.”

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