New York City’s law extending voting rights in municipal elections to noncitizens who are legally allowed to live, work and go to school in the five boroughs violates the New York State Constitution, according to a ruling issued by Justice Ralph Porzio in Richmond County State Supreme Court on Monday.
Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella was the lead among a group of predominantly Republican plaintiffs who sued the city after the new law was enacted in January, arguing it would change how they needed to campaign. A group of voters who were plaintiffs in the suit also claimed their votes would be diluted by the new law, which was set to allow upwards of 800,000 new voters to register and vote in local elections starting in 2023.
In his ruling, Porzio sided with the plaintiffs, adding the measure also violated New York State election law and the municipal home rule law.
“The New York State Constitution expressly states that citizens meeting the age and residency requirements are entitled to register and vote in elections,” Porzio wrote in his ruling, emphasizing the word "citizens." New York State election law reaffirms this right is granted to only citizens, he wrote, and the city was exceeding its constitutionally granted authority by attempting to extend the right to non-citizens.
“Though voting is a right so many citizens take for granted, the City of New York cannot ‘obviate’ the restrictions imposed by the Constitution,” Porzio added.
The judge also affirmed the arguments made by plaintiffs that “the weight of the citizens’ vote will be diluted by municipal voters and candidates and political parties alike will need to reconfigure their campaigns.”
He framed his decision as a forewarning: “Though Plaintiffs have not suffered harm today, the harm they will suffer is imminent.”
Proponents of the law, including the group LatinoJustice which joined the lawsuit in support of intervening defendants who would gain voting rights, said they planned to move forward with an appeal to the state Appellate Division, Second Department.
The city law department said it was disappointed in the result and was evaluating its next steps.
Plaintiffs celebrated Porzio’s decision declaring it a victory against progressive policymakers.
“Today’s decision validates those of us who can read the plain English words of our state constitution and state statutes: non-citizen voting in New York is illegal, and shame on those who thought they could skirt the law for political gain,” said City Council Minority Leader Joseph Borelli in a statement issued shortly after the ruling was posted online.
Borelli noted there was bipartisan opposition to the law, “yet progressives chose to ignore both our constitution and public sentiment in order to suit their aims. I commend the court in recognizing reality and reminding New York’s professional protestor class that the rule of law matters.”
Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, another plaintiff in the case, lauded the decision on Twitter, calling it a, “big victory in our fight to preserve the integrity of our elections.”
Advocates who worked for more than a decade to secure passage of the legislation were expected to gather outside the Richmond County State Supreme Courthouse in Staten Island Monday afternoon. They planned to apply for a stay, temporarily barring the ruling from being implemented as they file an appeal.
“There was not much, if any, substantive engagement with the arguments that we raised,” said Cesar Ruiz, a legal fellow and attorney with LatinoJustice.
Other proponents said they were not surprised by the outcome of the case given that plaintiffs filed it in Staten Island, a traditionally more Republican-leaning borough.
“They went court shopping where they knew that the court would be favorable to them,” said Murad Awawdeh, head of the New York City Immigration Coalition and one of the law’s most vocal supporters. In spite of the decision, he said defendants were undeterred.
“We're gonna keep fighting to ensure that nearly 1 million New Yorkers who are building their families, paying taxes and investing in our communities have a say in their local democracy,” Awawdeh told Gothamist. “That is what this comes down to.”
This story has been updated with additional information.