Thu Jun 15, 2017 by Anil Kalhan
REPORT AND OBJECTING STATEMENT: New York City Bar Ass’n Task Force on the New York State Constitutional Convention, June 14, 2017
Believing that the opportunity to achieve reforms outweighs reservations regarding the “flawed” delegate selection process and possible risks to “cherished constitutional protections,” the New York City Bar Association’s Task Force on the New York State Constitutional Convention has issued a report in support of convening a statewide constitutional convention.
Every twenty years, New York voters go to the polls to decide whether to call a constitutional convention to revise the New York State Constitution and amend the same. New York voters most recently answered no in 1997. In November 2017, as provided by the State’s Constitution, New York voters will once again face the question of whether to call a constitutional convention. If the electorate decides to call a convention, delegates will be elected in November 2018 and the convention will convene in April 2019.
“We know that there is no guarantee that a convention whose delegate selection processes are flawed will address and correct the endemic problems of our State government,” the report states. “We also recognize that any risk to cherished constitutional protections is deeply concerning to members of the bar who work tirelessly on behalf of low-income individuals, and those concerns should be given significant weight. But, upon hearing, considering and deliberating the overall pros and cons of holding a convention, and taking into account longstanding City Bar positions, we have ultimately concluded that the potential benefits – primarily in the areas of government ethics, suffrage and judiciary reform – outweigh the potential risks.”
In a rare but not unprecedented move, the City Bar appended an objection from several of its committees, which argues that the risks outweigh the prospects for achieving desired reforms and urges alternative routes for reform.
In 1997, the City Bar’s Task Force, despite finding that the Constitution was in need of significant reform, recommended against a convention due to its concerns with the delegate selection process, the risks of constitutional protections regarding social welfare being weakened, and the power of PAC and special-interest money.
Objection to the City Bar’s Position by the Capital Punishment, Civil Rights, Family Court and Family Law, Immigration and Nationality Law, International Human Rights, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights, Pro Bono and Legal Services, Social Welfare Law, and State Courts of Superior Jurisdiction Committees and the Council on Judicial Administration:
Nine committees of the New York City Bar Association—Capital Punishment, Civil Rights, Family Court and Family Law, Immigration and Nationality Law, International Human Rights, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights, Pro Bono and Legal Services, Social Welfare Law, and State Courts of Superior Jurisdiction—as well as the Council on Judicial Administration, urged the City Bar either to oppose a Constitutional Convention or to make no recommendation on the issue. Those Committees that urged active opposition believe that a Constitutional Convention poses a greater risk to the unique protections that our State Constitution provides to all New Yorkers than it offers in the promise of beneficial reform. In their view, a Constitutional Convention poses the greatest potential harm to New Yorkers who have historically lacked political power, including low-wage workers and other low-income people, immigrants, people of color, LGBT people, and others whose interests are currently under attack on the federal level.
The City Bar determined that the views of these committees and Council (the “Objecting Committees”) are a significant and valuable contribution to the debate regarding whether New York should hold a Constitutional Convention, and therefore invited the Objecting Committees to prepare this statement so that the public would have the advantage of seeing a wider range of views on whether to support or oppose the calling of a convention.