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New York Constitutional Law

Amending the New York State Constitution

By Richard Rifkin, Esq.
June 4, 2024

The procedure to amend the New York State Constitution has recently become a matter of significant interest because of a court decision removing from the November 2024 ballot a proposed amendment that had been approved by the Legislature for submission to the voters. This explainer outlines the procedure for amending the New York State Constitution and the procedural question underlying the recent court decision.

Repeal the Cap?: Proposed Amendment to Remove Constitutional Limits on New York Supreme Court Justices

By Richard Rifkin, Esq.
March 29, 2024

In September 2023, the New York City Bar Association’s Council on Judicial Administration issued a comprehensive report on the excessive delays currently encountered in the New York state courts. It identified as a significant factor the inadequate number of judges available to consider the cases brought in the state’s various courts. The Council made a series of recommendations to resolve this problem. While most of the Council’s proposals advocated for legislative and administrative changes that it hoped would result in more judges being authorized, one proposal supported an amendment to the New York State Constitution. The proposed amendment would repeal a current provision of the Constitution that limits the number of Justices of the New York Supreme Court (JSCs), who are elected in each of the state’s thirteen judicial districts. This explainer outlines the legal and practical implications of the current provision and the proposed amendment.

New York State Environmental Rights Amendment: Standards of Review

By Scott Fein, Harrison Robbins ’25, and Patrick A. Woods ’12
February 5, 2024

On November 2, 2021, New York voters approved an Amendment to the New York State Constitution’s Bill of Rights providing that: “Each person shall have the right to clean air and water, and to a healthful environment.” As noted in our prior explainer, the right to a healthy environment was, for the first time, expressly cloaked in constitutional protection. This new provision has been referred to colloquially as the “Green Amendment.” In our initial explainer, we examined the potential impact and implications of the Green Amendment. One issue, however, remains unexamined: the ‘standard of review’ the courts should use to determine the constitutionality of a government action that allegedly violates the Green Amendment. The standard of review applied by the courts will, more than any other factor, decide the long-term importance of the Amendment. This explainer examines the considerations taken into account in determining the appropriate standard of review.

The Constitutionality of the New York Early Mail Voter Act

By Richard Rifkin
December 13, 2023

With the recent enactment of the “New York Early Mail Voter Act,” there are now two conflicting provisions of law setting forth different rules regarding the ability of voters to cast their vote by mail. New York will face a significant problem in conducting elections in 2024, unless the courts are able to reach a final decision early next year that resolves the question of which of the two contrary provisions of law will govern. In this explainer, Government Law Center Legal Director Richard Rifkin examines the conflict between constitutional and statutory provisions concerning elections and what it means for New York's 2024 elections.

2023 Statewide Ballot Proposal 1: Constitutional Amendment Removing the Debt Limit on Small City School Districts

By Ashlyn Henrichs ‘25
October 19, 2023

On November 7, 2023, New Yorkers will be asked to vote on whether to approve an amendment to the New York State Constitution that would eliminate the constitutional debt limit for small city school districts (ballot proposal 1). The change would align the constitutional borrowing limits of small city school districts with the limits that apply to rural and suburban districts. This explainer outlines the constitutional basis for limitations on the ability of local governments and school districts to take on debt and explains the practical effects of the constitutional amendment to eliminate the constitutional debt limit for small city school districts. Click to download.

2023 Statewide Ballot Proposal 2: Constitutional Amendment Excluding Sewage from Local Indebtedness

By Michael Lennon
October 19, 2023

During the November 2023 election, New Yorkers will be asked to vote on whether to approve a proposed amendment to the New York State Constitution that would “Exclude indebtedness for the construction or reconstruction of sewage facilities contracted prior to 2034" (ballot proposal 2).  If the measure is approved, Article 8, § 5(E) of the New York State Constitution would be amended to replace the words “two thousand twenty-four” with “two thousand thirty-four.” This explainer highlights the practical effects of the constitutional amendment to extend the time frame during which local governments can accrue debt related to construction or reconstruction of sewage facilities without impacting their overall debt limitations. Click here to download.

The Constitutionality of the Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government

By Bennett Liebman
June 29, 2023

In 2022, the New York State Legislature Established the Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government (COELIG) as the latest iteration in government ethics and lobbying oversight, replacing the former Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). While COELIG represents a new era of ethics oversight, the constitutionality of the new commission has recently come into question in two separate cases. This explainer explores these challenges to the constitutionality of the new commission, as well as legal precedents that may inform its future.

Exploring the Emergency Powers of the Governor in New York State

By Ariel Gougeon '24
April 3, 2023

Recent Executive Orders have prompted greater public awareness and scrutiny of the emergency powers of the Governor in New York State, revisions to those powers, and calls for further reform. This explainer lays out the statutory and constitutional bases for gubernatorial emergency powers in New York, as well their current limitations.

New York’s New Constitutional Environmental Bill of Rights: Impact and Implications

By Scott Fein and Tyler Otterbein '22
November 2021

On November 2, 2021, New York voters approved an Amendment to the State Constitution’s Bill of Rights providing that: “Each person shall have the right to clean air and water, and to a healthful environment.” In those sixteen words, the right to a healthy environment was, for the first time, cloaked in constitutional protection in New York and deemed the equivalent to the sixteen current constitutional guarantees in the state Bill of Rights. Those rights include freedom of speech, trial by jury, religious liberty, habeas corpus, compensation for taking of private property, equal protection of law, and security against unreasonable searches and seizure.

There has been considerable commentary on the potential impact of the new Amendment, commonly referred to as the “Green Amendment.” The question yet unresolved is whether the Green Amendment will be no more than an abstract statement of a societal desire or a meaningful mechanism for citizens to safeguard their environment. This explainer outlines several facets of that question.  

New York State Voting Rights Constitutional Amendments on the November 2021 Ballot

By Richard Rifkin
October 4, 2021

At this moment in time, our country is in the midst of a vigorous and often contentious debate with regard to the right to vote. Congress has several pending bills that are hotly contested, and many state legislatures have either adopted bills or are working on bills that will affect the voting process and procedures in their states. New York, where the rhetoric has been far more subdued, has also taken some action with respect to voting. Furthermore, New York voters will get to have a say in some of the choices our state will be making.