More on Term Limits. . . .

October 7th, 2008

The FLoG Blog had some technical problems but is up and running again. I thought we’d take a closer look at the term limits issue in New York. Here is a little bit of research I did this morning (comments welcome!):

It seems like the claim that the City Council can override the voter-passed term limit referendums is more legally problematic than some have made it out to be. In most cases there is no reason that a City Council local law cannot override a voter-passed referendum (see Caruso v. City of New York), but the City Charter and the New York State Municipal Home Rule law provide an exception to this rule: Any law that seeks to “change the term of an elective officer” must be passed-by New York City voters (Chapter 2 § 38(4) of the NYC Charter). On its face, this would seem to preclude the possibility of passing the Bloomberg-law without a referendum, but it seems like the Mayor must be basing his judgment that a City Council-passed law would be sufficient on a 2003 New York State Appellate Division ruling that the City Council could pass a law allowing City Councilmembers who had served a four year term and a two year term (during the transition from four-year to two-year terms) to serve another two-year term even though it would be their third term, otherwise in violation of the city’s term limits (Golden v. New York City Council) (the Court of Appeals denied cert). The court in that case based its opinion on the fact that the local law “amended the term limit provisions” without “changing the term of office.”

The law at issue in this case is different from what the Mayor wants to pass because though it allows certain Councilmembers to serve an extra term, it does not necessarily enable them to serve more than eight years. If the purpose of term limits is to prevent politicians from spending too much time in office, then this difference would seem to be a hugely important one. Nonetheless, the language the court uses may apply equally to the mayor’s proposed law. By “term of office” the court seems to be referring to the length of a single term – something that the Mayor’s proposed law would not address – and it contrasts this with “amend[ing] the term limit provisions,” which is what the Bloomberg law would do. The language here is likely sufficient to allow the City Council to pass the Bloomberg-law, but it is important to note that the issue is much closer than the media seems to be presenting it.