September 19, 2017: New York State Bar Association Kicks Off Campaign to Restructure Courts, Modernize Voting and Streamline NYS Constitution
The New York State Bar Association today called on New Yorkers to “vote yes” on a referendum to authorize a Constitutional Convention to re-think how state government operates.
“Our state Constitution is broken. It is badly in need of repair,” said Association President Sharon Stern Gerstman. “New Yorkers deserve better. You can make a difference. Vote ‘yes’ on November 7 for a Constitutional Convention.”
Gerstman kicked off the Association’s campaign at a press conference in Albany on September 19. Joining her were Michael Miller of New York City, president-elect of the State Bar Association and Hank Greenberg of Albany, chair of its Committee on the New York State Constitution.
The Association’s “Vote Yes” campaign focuses primarily on these goals:
- Fix our court structure. No state has a more complicated court system. It has 11 different trial courts. The resulting inefficiencies cost New Yorkers extra time and money, because they may have to file in multiple courts to settle a legal dispute. For example, a domestic violence victim seeking protection and a divorce may be required to appear in three courts. A business suing another business and the State of New York must file in two separate courts.
- Lift barriers to voter participation. New York has one of the nation’s lowest voter participation rates. Other states have adopted Election-Day registration and “no-excuse” absentee voting. New York cannot adopt these reforms, because they violate its current Constitution.
- Adjust balance between state and local government decision-making. The state Legislature has assumed the power to set salaries of county district attorneys, decide whether New York City can lower the speed limit in residential neighborhoods, and impose “unfunded mandates,” forcing local taxpayers to foot the bills for what are essentially state programs
- Ensure rights of New Yorkers. Many of the most cherished provisions in the state Constitution were proposed by Constitutional Conventions: the Forever Wild Clause (1894); and the Aid to the Needy Clause and the Labor Bill of Rights (both 1938). A future convention could propose an equal rights amendment, reproductive rights, rights to same-sex marriage, expanded privacy rights and rights to clean air and water.
- Streamline the Constitution to better meet today’s needs. The state Constitution is stuffed with provisions that are outdated, obsolete, redundant or declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Once the clutter is cleared, a constitutional convention might consider ways to modernize the operations of state government.
New York State Bar Association Resources
In 2015, then-State Bar Association President David P. Miranda of Albany created a committee to study the state Constitution. Its five reports address: creating a preparatory commission; the “Home Rule” provision outlining the relative powers of state and local governments; the “forever wild” clause and Conservation Article; the structure of the state Judiciary; and “Whether New Yorkers Should Approve the 2017 Ballot Question Calling for a Constitutional Convention.” In June, the Association’s House of Delegates voted 111 to 28 in support of a Constitutional Convention.
A downloadable digital press kit is available at www.nysba.org/conconpresskit.
Link to video of press conference: https://www.facebook.com/NYSBA/videos/10155688989822497/.
The 72,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. It was founded in 1876.
Contact: Lise Bang-Jensen
Director of Media Services & Public Affairs