Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Second Circuit clears NYC Mayor Bloomberg's run for a Third Term

The Second Circuit has issued its opinion  in 09-0331-cv, Molinari v. Bloomberg, affirming the district court's rejection of challenges to Mayor Michael Bloomberg seeking a third term, despite previously approved term limits.  As the Second Circuit noted,

At issue in this litigation is an amendment to the Charter of the City of New York, entitled Local Law 51, which was passed by the City Council and signed into law by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on November 3, 2008.  It provides that Members of the City Council, the Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller and Borough Presidents are eligible to serve a maximum of three consecutive terms in office. It amends sections 1337 and 1338 of the City Charter, which previously provided for a maximum of two consecutive terms for these officials and which were enacted by a city-wide referendum in 1993.


800px-New-York-Jan2005 The challenge raised several claims: a First Amendment claim that by amending the 1993 Voter Initiative through City Council legislation, the defendants discourage voters from participating in the referendum process in the future; a substantive due process claim that by passing legislation with the sole purpose of extending their own political careers and entrenching incumbents, the defendants violated the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as two state and local claims, based on laws mandating referendum as the mechanism to enact legislation regarding term limits,  and the City Charter’s conflict of interest provisions.

The court’s analysis of the substantive due process claim merits some discussion.  The Second Circuit panel writes:

Let us be clear. It is indisputable that, as a result of Local Law 51, several Members of  the City Council who voted for it and were ineligible to run for reelection under the previous term limits law will now be able to seek reelection in the City’s November 2009 election. Some, perhaps even many, of these incumbents may be elected to a third term. Nevertheless, Local Law 51 neither interferes with a fundamental right nor singles out a suspect classification. Accordingly, it is subject to rationality review.


Opinion at 34.  It isn't clear how the panel is using "suspect classification" in its due process analysis.  However, applying rationality review, the panel states:

Here, the City’s purported reason for enacting Local Law 51 is to provide the voters with an opportunity to elect experienced public officials in a time of financial crisis. It is beyond dispute that extending New York City’s term limits to three consecutive terms is rationally related to that legitimate objective. The fact that defendants also may have been motivated by political reasons – the desire to remain in office and in positions of seniority – is inconsequential under our substantive due process analysis.


Id.

The due process analysis and the opinion as a whole demonstrate how difficult it can be to prevail on constitutional (or other) claims against legislative action that is objected to as "self-serving."  While the Second Circuit opinion does not discuss "political questions" as a prudential (or Article III) restraint, such values are deeply embedded in the opinion.

RR

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Cases and Case Materials, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Political Question Doctrine | Permalink

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