The lawsuit, brought by both local and national Republicans, was filed against Mayor Eric Adams, among other defendants. Adams, a Democrat, had not supported the law, but didn’t oppose it either. His predecessor, Bill de Blasio, expressed misgivings about the measure’s constitutionality, but let it become law without his signature.
Porzio, sitting on Staten Island, ruled the measure violated the state constitution. Immigrant rights advocated argued that the granting of voting rights to “citizens” did not strictly mean American citizens but something broader.
“Based upon a plain reading of the New York State Constitution,” Porzio wrote, “‘every citizen,’ in this Court’s opinion, means every citizen of the United States.”
Proponents of the law, including the group Latino Justice, which joined the litigation in support of intervening defendants who would gain voting rights, said they planned an appeal. Earlier, the New York City Law Department said it was disappointed in the result and was evaluating its next steps.
Noncitizens were allowed to vote in school board elections in New York City until the school boards were abolished in 2002, and currently, a number of municipalities across the country allow noncitizens to cast their votes, including 11 jurisdictions in Maryland and two in Vermont. San Francisco only allows non-citizens to vote in school board elections.
Porzio sided with the plaintiffs, adding the measure violated New York State election law and the municipal home rule law as well.
Local advocates for noncitizen voting rights said they weren’t surprised by the New York ruling.
“This is not an issue that has been litigated ever before,” said Cesar Ruiz, an attorney at Latino Justice. “It presents some really novel and new issues.”
Latino Justice and other immigrant rights groups argued that “state citizenship is distinct from federal citizenship.”
“Citizenship is used to describe an individual’s relationship with either the state or country they live in,” reads a memo shared by Ruiz.
The lawsuit also centered arguments as to whether “vote dilution” would result from a considerable increase in the number of New Yorkers suddenly allowed to cast their votes. In his ruling, Porzio noted the argument by immigrant rights advocates that “vote dilution is not a cognizable harm under New York State law,” but then immediately rejected that argument.
“This Court finds that the registration of new voters will certainly affect voters, political parties, candidate’s campaigns, re-elections and the makeup of their constituencies, and is not speculative,” he wrote. “Though the Plaintiffs have not suffered any harm today, the harm they will suffer is imminent, and it is reasonably certain that they will suffer their claimed harm if the proposed municipal voters are entitled to vote.”
The attempt to redefine citizen was not embraced by all immigrant rights advocates.
“I think we thought the framing of ‘citizen’ is problematic in itself,” said Fahd Ahmed, the executive director of DRUM – Desis Rising Up and Moving, a group that represents low-wage South Asian and Indo-Caribbean New Yorkers and strongly advocated for the new law.
“People live here, work here, contribute to the social fabric, and are impacted by policies,” wrote Ahmed in an email. “That in itself, regardless of ‘status’ should give people a right on ALL the things that will impact their lives. In the absence of such a framework, many electeds do often make calculations on which communities are worthy of being responsive to based on potential vote banks.”