Member Profile: Christopher Bopst’s Study of New York’s Constitution Brings Him Joy
Litigation attorney Christopher Bopst, partner of Wilder and Linneball in Buffalo, is the chair of the NYSBA Committee on the New York State Constitution. He is passionate about its work and the issues members are investigating this year, including term limits and simplification of the NYS Constitution.
What sparked your interest in the study of the New York State Constitution?
Peter Galie was a professor of mine at Canisius College in Buffalo. He’s one of the preeminent scholars in the area of the New York State Constitution. During my undergrad, I was his research assistant while he was writing a constitutional history of the State of New York called Ordered Liberty. Since then, we have written articles and co-authored two books.
What are the points of pride and the flaws of our State Constitution?
It’s a heavily amended document that has not worn well over time. There are a lot of issues that could be updated and simplified. In Article VII, there are sections dedicated to bond that were issued and retired decades ago. Our state constitution is roughly 55,000 words, which makes it about seven times the size of the US Constitution. You have a constitution that is overgrown with many cases obsolete unenforceable provisions under federal law.
We have things in our state constitution that are sources of real pride like the forever wild provision in the Adirondacks, our commitment to help the needy and the right to a sound basic education. We have a lot in our state Constitution that is not in the federal Constitution.
The Committee on the NYS Constitution is dealing with current issues such as the lack of a provision to fill a vacancy in the office of Lt. Governor:
It’s a unique quirk of NYS law that if there is a vacancy for lieutenant governor, the Governor can appoint who she or he wants to fill that role without confirmation by anybody. Almost every other position at that level requires confirmation, usually by the State Senate. The Lt. Governor is not subject to approval of elected representatives of the state. Someone can come in with no oversight.
The Equal Rights Amendment to the NYS Constitution passed in the legislature in extraordinary session after following the Dobbs decision. What is your reaction?
The Dobbs decision made legislators realize that if you want to protect something you have to act. The legislature should be looking out for people’s rights. We can’t rely on a Supreme Court decision. Why didn’t Congress vote to codify Roe when they had a filibuster proof majority? Now, all of the sudden you realize what the Court gives, the Court can take away. Now people are saying well, we should have codified Roe when we had the chance.
Why did you join NYSBA and what value do you get from your membership?
In 2014, Hank Greenberg really got me involved because he knew about my work on the state constitution. It’s been truly rewarding. Being in Buffalo, oftentimes we’re a little bit cut off from the rest of the state. NYSBA has given me an opportunity to interact with brilliant lawyers and people in New York City and Albany and throughout the state. I get so much joy and exuberance out of the committee and I’m excited about what we’ve been doing. I’m excited about our different subcommittees and it’s truly been a source of great joy for me.
Any advice to young lawyers and those just starting out?
Find good mentors you can work with. It’s one thing I have been fortunate to have throughout my career. I have professionals along the way who helped me get through situations and helped me avoid mistakes that they’ve made and that’s really important. My law partners say there’s a reason they call it practice because you are constantly growing and learning and applying new skills and applying new things you’ve learned. To have an experienced lawyer you can talk with is invaluable.
I would join the New York State Bar Association because ….
The relationships you can build by being in the association, the people you can meet and the opportunities that you can develop and grow much more than pay for themselves with the cost of joining. The relationships that I have made through the association are critical to my development and my practice. These are folks I interact with regularly and learn from and who maybe learn a thing or two from me.