NYSBA To Hold Forum on Gubernatorial Succession, Lieutenant Governor Selection

By Jennifer Andrus

October 31, 2023

NYSBA To Hold Forum on Gubernatorial Succession, Lieutenant Governor Selection


By Jennifer Andrus

New York’s leading minds in law and politics — including former Gov. David Paterson and Fordham Law School Dean Emeritus John Feerick — are coming together to discuss changing the state constitution to provide a procedure for gubernatorial succession if the state’s highest official cannot serve due to illness or incompetence.

The discussion will also focus on who should have the authority to appoint a lieutenant governor.

Paterson was elevated to governor following the resignation of Gov. Eliot Spitzer and faced legal challenges appointing Richard Ravitch as lieutenant governor. Feerick is widely considered to be the architect of the 25th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, proposing it as a young lawyer in 1963 and working on the issue through to its ratification in 1967.

The 2022 criminal indictment and resignation of Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin brought attention to the lack of a vetting process for the second most powerful position in New York. Eight months later, Gov. Kathy Hochul appointed Antonio Delgado, again without vetting by the Legislature.

“The governor should not be the only person involved in choosing who sits a heartbeat away from the highest office in our state,” said Richard Lewis, president of the New York State Bar Association. “Two lieutenant governors were appointed in the space of eight months, and neither were confirmed by the elected body of the people of New York. We don’t want history to repeat itself.”

A report published by the New York State Bar Association in January calls for an amendment to the New York State constitution much like the 25th Amendment to establish a process to remove an unfit governor from office. Right now, there is no mechanism in the constitution to remove a governor who is unable to serve.

The report outlines a process where a committee made up of statewide leaders and cabinet members could declare a governor unfit. The decision would need to be confirmed by two thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature. In the event of a vacancy in the office of lieutenant governor, the report recommends the governor appoint a candidate who must be confirmed by a majority vote in both houses of the Legislature. Currently, there is no check on the power of the executive to choose and approve a successor.

Paterson will sit down for a one-on-one fireside chat with election law and voting rights expert Jerry Goldfeder, who also serves as director of the Fordham Law School Voting Rights and Democracy project. New York State Bar Association past president Michael Miller will interview Feerick in a fireside chat.

Following the two discussions, a panel of experts will debate the issues. John Rogan, senior fellow at Fordham Law School, will moderate the discussion with panelists:

  • Liz Benjamin, managing director, Marathon Strategies, and former New York political reporter and columnist.
  • Adrienne B. Koch, president, New York County Lawyers Association, and partner at Katsky Korins.
  • James M. McGuire, former chief counsel to Gov. George Pataki, partner at Holwell Shuster and Goldberg.
  • Alan Rothstein, co-author of the New York State Bar Association report on gubernatorial succession and former general counsel of the New York City Bar Association.

The Fordham Law School Rule of Law Clinic released a report on gubernatorial succession in August 2022: “Changing Hands: Recommendations to Improve New York’s System of Gubernatorial Succession.”

The event is sponsored by the New York State Bar Association and the Fordham University School of Law. More than a dozen legal and good government groups are co-sponsors. The forum begins at 6 p.m. Nov. 1 at Fordham University School of Law.

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