Gothamist: NYC Council appeals noncitizen voting ruling as Mayor Adams remains mum

Image for Gothamist: NYC Council appeals noncitizen voting ruling as Mayor Adams remains mum
Credit: Liana O'Grady on behalf of the New York Immigration Coalition

By Brigid Bergin

The New York City Council is asking the state’s highest court to overturn rulings against a law that would grant noncitizens living legally in the five boroughs the right to vote in local elections.

The Council filed a notice with the state Court of Appeals on Monday to defend Local Law 11, which allows green card holders, people with federal work authorization and other immigrants living legally in the city to vote in municipal elections.

Mayor Eric Adams, who had been a defendant in the suit supporting the law, is not joining in the appeal to the state’s highest court. The city Law Department will continue to represent the Council in the matter, according to officials.

The move comes on the deadline date to appeal a decision by the state Appellate Court Second Department last month that upheld a Staten Island lower court’s decision striking down the law two years ago.

The Council opted to defend the law — which would permit noncitizens living legally in the city to vote in elections for mayor, public advocate, city Council and borough president — even as contentious issues involving immigrant New Yorkers continue to dominate headlines.

“The Council passed Local Law 11 of 2022 to enfranchise 800,000 New Yorkers, who live in our city, pay taxes, and contribute to our communities,” Council spokesperson Rendy Desamours said in a statement. He said the Council's appeal seeks a court finding that the law is consistent with the state's Constitution and election law as well as the Municipal Home Rule Law.

“Empowering New Yorkers to participate in our local democratic process can only strengthen New York City by increasing civic engagement,” Desamours added. “We look forward to the Court of Appeal’s consideration of the Council’s appeal.”

A spokesperson for Adams' office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The case coincides with the ongoing debate over how the city is sheltering and caring for tens of thousands of migrants who have arrived in the five boroughs over the past year. Adams scrapped a last-minute trip to the Texas-Mexico border over the weekend.

Lawyers for the New York City-based nonprofits LatinoJustice and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund filed their own notice of appeal last Friday. The civil and voting rights groups joined the lawsuit as a defendant intervenor in 2022 on behalf of individual voters who would gain the right to vote under the law.

“We welcome the city to join our fight because we recognize the significance of this moment,” said Cesar Ruiz, associate counsel for LatinoJustice, on Monday morning. “We prepared to give New York’s highest court our best shot."

Ruiz joined other supporters of the law at a press conference on the steps of City Hall that was organized by Our City, Our Vote, an umbrella campaign that has spent years advocating for the law’s passage.

When the Council adopted the law in late 2021, the group celebrated with an eye towards the measure being implemented in advance of the 2023 Council elections. But legal challenges prevented that from happening.

“Two years ago on these very same steps we celebrated a victory for democracy and inclusivity when Local Law 11 passed,” Eva Santos Veloz said at the press conference. The 34-year-old currently lives in the Bronx with her children after moving from the Dominican Republic as a child, and has had legal status since 2013 under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, better known as DACA.

“We recognize that these same steps that symbolized progress and victory are a reminder of how quickly our rights are taken away,” she said.

While Mayor Adams never signed the bill into law, he allowed it to take effect in early 2022 and even spoke in favor of it on national TV.

But a day after it had become law, a group of Republican lawmakers led by Staten Island borough president Vito Fossella sued to block it from taking effect. The judge in that case, Ralph Porzio, ruled the law unconstitutional and said it violated state election law and the Municipal Home Rule law.

The city and defendant intervenors appealed to the state Appellate Court Second Department, which upheld most of the lower court ruling last month in a 3-to-1 decision blocking the law.


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