Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Obama's Justice Dept. Gives Bloomberg A Pass

Not that I was counting on the Justice Department to stop the legally dubious extension of term limits, but it was still disheartening to see their decision in favor of Mayor Bloomberg. The Mayor and Council deliberately went around the will of the people this past October/November and extended term limits despite two separate ballot decisions that put those limits in place. Plenty of challenges were made to the change in the law, but nearly all have failed, as far as the courts and now the Attorney General are concerned.

From The Daily Politics:

It now appears that there are only two possible bumps remaining between the mayor and completely smooth sailing to the fall elections - and both of them are longshots: The term limits lawsuit (now on appeal) and legislation that is moving, albeit slowly, in both houses of the state Legislature that would require another public referendum on the term limits change.

Here's the text:

This refers to Local Law No. 51 (2008), which amends Sections 1137 and 1138 of the city charter as they relate to term limits for the offices of city councilmembers, mayor and other elected officials in the City of New York in Bronx, Kings, and New York Counties, New York, submitted to the Attorney General pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C 1973c. We received your submission January 16, 2009; supplemental information was received on February 26, 2009."

The Attorney General does not interpose any objection to the specified changes. However, we note that Section 5 expressly provides that the failure of the Attorney General to object does not bar subsequent litigation to enjoin the forcement of the changes. Procedures for the Administration of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (28 C.F.R. 51.41).


Christopher Coates
Chief, Voting Section

I had discussed the matter with a friend who is knowledgeable in civil rights law to get a take on how this would play out. Basically, this was to be expected because rarely will the Justice Department overturn a bill passed by a City Council. Unless the action of the local government is so egregious in its' violation of the Voting Rights Act, the likelihood of interference is nil. Despite the (obvious and) implicit effect on the rights of minorities here, there is nothing in the bill's language that directly impacts their ability to vote fairly.

This attitude will likely be held by the whole of the State Legislature as well. For a state law that trumps city law would also step on the toes of the locality. Even though the bills in Albany to overturn Local Law 51 have made some progress, the possibility of them making it to the floor and passing is slim to none.

So what does this all mean? Basically, if we want to punish Bloomberg, Quinn and the other 28 Council Members for extending term limits, we need to vote them out in the upcoming primary and general elections. Bloomberg, being as out of touch as he is, thinks that people will forget the undemocratic political maneuver. However, as long as we get out there and fight for change in this city, we'll kick Bloomberg to the curb, where he belongs.