Oral arguments made in Federal Court last week in the lawsuit challenging the extension of term limits on all city elected officials produced rhetoric, but no decision.
A coalition of local elected officials, candidates, good-government groups and voters filed the lawsuit in November after the City Council passed and Mayor Bloomberg signed legislation extending the term limits from two to three four-year terms.
Voters have twice voted in favor of two four-year terms for all city office-holders.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued before Eastern District Senior Judge Charles P. Sifton in Brooklyn that Bloomberg acted illegally and violated the federal Voting Rights Act when he called for a vote to give himself, city leaders and Council members another term in office.
The plaintiffs urged the court to invalidate the law, and further seek the court’s declaration that a fundamental change in the city’s term limits law requires a public referendum.
But City attorney Stephen Kitzinger argued the Court should dismiss the plaintiffs’ federal claims and refuse to consider their State court claims, because the law was passed by a clear City Council majority and signed into law by Bloomberg.
Further, Kitzinger said the Council’s passage of the law fully complied with state and local law.
The plaintiffs’ true complaint was not that their First Amendment rights of political expression were violated, but rather that their views did not prevail, argued Kitzinger.
Kitzinger also noted that, while the federal Voting Rights Act prohibits the Court from issuing a decision until the term limit legislation is “precleared” by the U.S. Justice Department, the city would not urge the Court to dismiss the case on that ground, but to hold onto the case and wait for the Justice Department to complete its preclearance review before issuing a decision.
Kitzinger suggested that proceeding in that manner would minimize delay and would advance all parties’ interests in having the Court decide the issues as quickly as possible. Sifton reserved judgement in the case until a later fate.
Following the oral arguments, City Councilmember Bill de Blasio, who along with Councilmember Letitia James are the two Brooklyn elected officials signed on as plaintiffs, said the court case represents an important step toward restoring democracy in New York City.
“The facts clearly show that the actions by the mayor and the council violated federal, state, and local laws. This issue, and the fight to uphold justice for the voters, has resonated with New Yorkers like no other in recent memory,” said de Blasio.
“There is still time to put a referendum on the ballot for this spring should we be granted that opportunity, and so we hope that Judge Sifton will issue his opinion quickly,” he added.
Jeffrey D. Friedlander, First Assistant Corporation Counsel, said the city legislation meets all the requirements of federal and state law.
“This legal challenge is without merit, and we look forward to a favorable judicial resolution that will allow the voters to elect the candidates of their choice,” said Friedlander.