NY Constitutional Convention: YES or NO?

New York State Capitol Building from East Capitol Park in Albany. New York

New York State Capitol Building

Rockland County, New York family law attorney Paul Goldhamer, Esq. is a founding partner at Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman. In addition to practicing matrimonial law in NY & NJ, Mr. Goldhamer makes time for teaching, lecturing to professional organizations, and outreach through TV, radio and other media. He helped pioneer the practice of providing free legal seminars to the public in the Tri-State area. Mr. Goldhamer was honored as a “Super Lawyer” by Superlawyers.com in 2014.

by Paul Goldhamer, Esq.

The New York State constitution is available for a constitutional convention every 20 years. The “vote” on November 7, 2017 is on the question “shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend same?” There has not been a constitutional convention in 40 years. Over the last 240 years, New York has held nine (9) such conventions: 1777, 1801, 1822, 1846, 1867, 1894, 1915, 1938, and 1967; the longest gap being the 50 years since our last convention.

First off , the vote is on Nov. 7th and you must turn out to vote!

A “YES” vote supports the holding of the constitutional convention. A “NO” vote opposes holding a constitutional convention.

Various groups of people are against having a constitutional convention, including most labor unions, and odd bedfellows like Planned Parenthood, The New York Right to Life Committee, The New York State Republican party, The Rifle and Pistol Association and the left-leaning Working Families Party. It’s hard to imagine these groups agreeing on anything. In short, they now have a single cause they can fight for together.

For instance, the New York State Bar Association as a group of 72,000 members is in support of it (although I don’t personally know any individual good lawyer who thinks it is a good idea). The Bar Association is in it for 2 things only. They want to streamline the 11 different type of trial courts in the State and make it harder to restrict voter’s rights.

The Republicans as a group love to restrict voting rights, yet they are against this convention. Many big businesses are in favor of it, because they believe it will lessen regulation. Gun owner organizations are against it, because they believe it will increase regulation.

Environmental groups fear a Constitutional Convention, because they are afraid the ecological free spaces like the Catskill & Adirondack Parks could be compromised by development. Unions are against it, because they are afraid that constitutionally mandated pension protections may be altered for people who are retired and currently working.  Pensions can be controlled with negotiation by limiting the pension rights for new entries. That will fix the problem. The pension loading can be addressed by internal rules.

Proponents of the convention estimate that it will cost $7 million to hold the convention. The opposition claims it could cost many hundreds of millions of dollars. Adjusted for inflation, the convention last time (1967) cost about $47 million, according to political scientist Gerard Benjamin at New Paltz College. You can bet it’s going to cost more this time.

Last time there was a constitutional convention, 98 of the 185 delegates held some type of political office appointment, according to the League of Women Voters. In 1967, the new changes to the constitution were ultimately rejected by the public, 3.5 million votes against 1.3 million.

This time around there will be 204 delegates. Most convention delegates will be elected from the legislature, and they are almost always prominent politicians. The delegates will be paid $79,500 on top of their salary. So almost all of them will be dipping into our tax dollars more than two times (some 3 or 4). Any voter is eligible to run for the position, but with the name recognition politicians enjoy, they will become the delegates. It is a giant barrel of pork passed out to the politicians. They will overshoot any estimated expense.

The courts and the fabric of law have protected the constitution and interpreted it in ways to keep the state running. A process already exists to amend the constitution and it is much simpler and less expensive. Isolated issues can be examined, but they must stand on their own.

It is possible that the powers that seek change want to camouflage their real purpose. It is better to make these judgments on individual issues, rather than in a heap, where important rights may be lost in the sauce. The NY Constitution has worked for 50 years and will work longer, if we leave it alone.

I suggest that when you vote on November 7th,  you Vote No!