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Brooklyn Democratic Party Reverses Position; States In Court That Petitioning Rule Is Unconstitutional

For Immediate Release
May 30, 2001

Contact Information:
Amanda Cooper, 212 008-6736

Brooklyn Democratic Party Reverses Position; States in Court that Peritioning Rule is Unconstitutional
Residency Requirement Dropped at Emergency Meeting Minutes before Federal Court Was to Decide Whether to Block Party Rule

Under heavy questioning from U.S. District Court Judge Nina Gershon, a lawyer for the Brooklyn Democratic Party acknowledged in court today that the Party’s disputed ballot petitioning rule was unconstitutional. He also stated that no attempt would be made to reinstitute the Party rule for the duration of this year’s campaigns, regardless of legislative action in Albany or administrative rulings by the U.S. Department of Justice. The case is Yassky v. Kings County Democratic County Committee.

The statements in court mark a reversal of the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s position. As a result of today’s hearing, supporters from outside of the district in which a candidate is running will no longer be barred from collecting signatures to place their candidate on the primary ballot. A number of City Council candidates challenging the Party rule were present in court for the hearing.

“This is a great First Amendment victory for insurgent candidates and their supporters,” said Nancy Northup, Director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program and lead counsel for the plaintiff candidates. “After today’s hearing, there is no longer any doubt about the petitioning rules governing the upcoming Democratic primary. That certainty is precisely what our clients - and the primary process - sorely needed. The Brooklyn Democratic Party finally has been forced to jettison a misguided rule that stifled the political expression of a candidate’s supporters.”

The Party’s statements in court came just minutes after the conclusion of an emergency meeting of the Executive Committee of the Kings County Democratic County Committee, convened at 2:00 p.m. today, at which the Party repealed the ballot petitioning rule. The Brooklyn Democratic Party made no attempt in court to defend the constitutionality of the disputed rule on the merits.

The Brennan Center for Justice represents the City Council candidates challenging the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s rule. The Brennan Center argued in its court papers that the Party’s petitioning rule was virtually identical to a New York law struck down by a federal appellate court in November. That decision, Lerman v. Board of Elections, found that the residency requirement infringed the First Amendment rights of primary candidates and their supporters. Today, Israel Goldberg, the lawyer for the Brooklyn Democratic Party, agreed with the Brennan Center’s core argument, acknowledging: “Under the current state of the law - the Lerman case - the [Party’s] rule is not enforceable.”

Selected filings in Yassky v. Kings County Democratic County Committee are available online at http://www.brennancenter.org.

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law develops and implements a nonpartisan agenda of scholarship, public education, and legal action that promotes equality and human dignity, while safeguarding fundamental freedoms. For more information please contact Amanda Cooper at (212) 998-6736. Click here for copies of the May 25, 2001 press release with links to selected filings.