Amicus Brief on Redistricting Constitutional Amendment Ballot Language, Leib v Walsh
Amicus Brief Defending NYC Campaign Finance System, "Sure Winner" Provisions, Citizens Union, Brennan Center and other civic groups, Ognibene v. Parkes
Amicus Supporting the New York City Campaign Finance Program Reforms
CU filed an amicus curiae brief in U.S District Court, Southern District, in the lawsuit brought against the city and its recent enactment of changes to the campaign finance program. These changes, championed by Citizens Union, aim to restrict the size and impact of contributions from those who are lobbyists or do business with the city. NYPIRG and Common Cause helped craft and signed onto the brief prepared and written by Citizens Union’s pro bono counsel, Proskauer Rose. In submitting this brief, all three organizations went on record in opposing the lawsuit and supporting these reforms to New York City’s campaign finance program.
Amicus Calling for NYS Member Items Disclosure
Citizens Union, along with a coalition of other good government and political reform organizations, submitted an amicus brief in support of the Albany Times Union’s lawsuit against the New York State Legislature for failure to disclose details about the hundreds of millions of dollars in “member items” it annually dispenses.
The Albany based newspaper submitted a Freedom of Information Law request for information about what legislators were responsible for securing specific projects and at what amount. When the request was denied by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, the newspaper sued for the information. With the assistance of the law firm Morgan, Lewis, & Bockuis, the friend of the court brief filed by CU and its colleagues, the Brennan Center for Justice, Citizens Budget Commission, Common Cause/NY, League of Women Voters of New York State, and New York Public Interest Research Group, stated that keeping such information secret was a breach of the public trust and did not allow for the public to hold elected officials accountable for the ways in which decisions are made about the public’s money.
Amicus on Judicial Selection
Citizens Union filed an amicus brief in the Second Circuit, U.S. Court of Appeals in support of District Court Judge John Gleeson’s ruling, which declared judicial nominating conventions for New York State Supreme Court justices unconstitutional. Citizens Union supported Judge Gleeson’s decision that nominating conventions are scripted events controlled by party leaders to ensure their favored candidates win the nomination, and that immediate reforms are necessary.
Judge Gleeson called on the state legislature to devise a proper remedy to ensure an independent judiciary and the right of voters to nominate party candidates. In the interim, Judge Gleeson called for direct primary election for Supreme Court, a position that Citizens Union argues is but one of several possible remedies that should be explored.
Citizens Union believes that alternative interim measures did not receive an adequate hearing, and, based on a history of inaction in Albany, one could reasonably expect that direct primaries will become the default mechanism for years to come. CU was less than comfortable with the notion of Supreme Court candidates partaking in primary elections that require vigorous fundraising and campaigning, both activities that undermine the independence of the judiciary. While Citizens Union did not describe what an appropriate remedy would be, the organization has long held that justices should be selected through a merit based appointment selection process.
Amicus in Class Size Petition Case
Citizens Union filed an amicus brief in support of the effort to place a ballot question before the voters of the City on the issue of class size. The petition asked that the Mayor allocate up to 25% of whatever state funds the city receives from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit for the purpose of reducing class size in city schools. CU did not address the substance of the issue, but rather the first amendment right of citizens to petition their government under the process presently allowed for by both the state constitution and city charter.
HAVA Compliance Amicus
Citizens Union Foundation and Citizens Union jointly submitted an amicus brief in the lawsuit between the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and New York State on the issue of compliance with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Our amicus concluded that the interim plan as submitted by the State Board of Elections to install ballot marking devices in a limited manner for the 2006 Primary Elections would not be in the best long term interest of voters in New York. As a way to remedy and effect compliance, the Court should appoint a special master to supervise, create and implement the state’s HAVA plan for 2006 and 2007. Essentially conceding that full forced compliance in 2006 would bring about the equivalent of an electoral train wreck, the DOJ essentially and reluctantly conceded that little could be done to force the state to do more than what it is minimally offering to do. The DOJ instead asked the Court to require the state to submit a detailed compliance plan for 2007 no later than July 15, 2006.
As New York continues in its slow progress to implement HAVA, Citizens Union Foundation continues to work to ensure that the transition to new voting systems will be transparent, and voting machines are secure, accessible and easily operated by all poll workers and voters alike. Despite the pressure from the federal level, the objective at the state and county boards of elections must be to protect and enfranchise all eligible voters. After all, elections are the primary and most direct avenue for voters to participate in government, and their success serves to measure the strength of our democracy.
Citizens Union filed an Amicus Brief in support of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF) case against New York State over the way in which it created the second Surrogate Court seat in Kings County (Brooklyn). PRLDEF alleged that New York State denied minority voters of Kings County, which had the largest number of minority voters in any county in the State, the ability to vote in the primary for a newly created surrogate judgeship in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. This second surrogate court seat was created by the legislature in June 2005, bypassing a primary election and allowing party leaders to select the candidate.