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Brooklyn Democratic Party Sued by Its Own Candidates In Federal Court

For Immediate Release

May 25, 2001

Contact: Jobina Jones, (212) 998-6282, Amanda Cooper, (212) 008-6736

BROOKLYN DEMOCRATIC PARTY SUED BY ITS OWN CANDIDATES IN FEDERAL COURT

Party Refuses to Drop Rule Harming Free Speech Rights of Candidates and Voters

City Council Races Face Uncertain Future

In a public display of party infighting, the Brooklyn Democratic Party was sued in federal court yesterday by a number of its own candidates for City Council seats. The lawsuit, Yassky v. Kings County Democratic County Committee, escalates a long-simmering dispute over a party rule setting restrictive residency requirements on who may carry ballot petitions for primary candidates. The Brooklyn Democratic Party is the only Democratic county organization in New York with such a rule.

The Brennan Center for Justice represents the City Council candidates. Papers filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York yesterday charge that the Party’s rule is virtually identical to a New York law struck down just 6 months ago by a federal appellate court. That ruling, in Lerman v. Board of Elections, found unconstitutional a State law requiring that anyone collecting signatures to get a candidate on a primary ballot must be a resident of the district in which the candidate is running. In Lerman, the residency requirement was held to infringe the First Amendment rights of primary candidates and their supporters.

By refusing to repeal its petitioning rule, the Brooklyn Democratic Party has thrown a number of City Council races into turmoil. Petitioning to put primary candidates on the ballot is scheduled to begin on June 5. “Without immediate clarification, these candidacies will be jeopardized,” said Nancy Northup, Director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “The specter of the petitioning rule and its residency requirement has a terrible chilling effect on our clients’ efforts to gain a place on the primary ballot.”

The lawsuit follows a May 15, 2001, demand letter sent by the Brennan Center to the Brooklyn Democratic Party, asking that the Party’s petitioning rule be repealed by May 22. The Brennan Center demand letter clearly stated that “unless the rule is repealed...we will seek to protect our clients” rights through court action.”

“The Brooklyn Democratic Party is going to regret this mistake,” said the Brennan Center’s Ms. Northup. “They are acting against their own stated interests. The petitioning rule stifles political expression by a candidate’s supporters and sets up roadblocks for outsiders who seek office.”

The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, May 30, 2001 in front of Judge Nina Gershon in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Selected filings in Yassky v. Kings County Democratic County Committee (complaint, brief, Declaration of David Yassky) and the Brennan Center’s May 15 demand letter are available online.

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 Jobina Jones at (212) 998-6282, or Amanda Cooper at (212) 998-6736.