STATEMENT​ ​OF​ ​PROFESSORS​ ​OF​ ​CONSTITUTIONAL​ ​LAW​ ​AND​ ​GOVERNMENT

ON​ ​A​ ​NEW​ ​YORK​ ​CONSTITUTIONAL​ ​CONVENTION

This​ ​November​ ​the​ ​people​ ​of​ ​New​ ​York​ ​will​ ​enjoy​ ​an​ ​opportunity​ ​that​ ​arrives​ ​only​ ​once​ ​in​ ​a
generation​ ​–​ ​an​ ​opportunity​ ​to​ ​assert​ ​direct,​ ​popular​ ​control​ ​over​ ​the​ ​State’s​ ​government.​ ​ ​Under​ ​a
provision​ ​of​ ​the​ ​New​ ​York​ ​Constitution,​ ​the​ ​November​ ​ballot​ ​must​ ​include​ ​the​ ​following​ ​question,​ ​posed
every​ ​twentieth​ ​year:​ ​“Shall​ ​there​ ​be​ ​a​ ​convention​ ​to​ ​revise​ ​the​ ​constitution​ ​or​ ​amend​ ​the​ ​same?”

As​ ​professors​ ​and​ ​academics​ ​who​ ​have​ ​long​ ​studied​ ​constitutional​ ​law​ ​and​ ​governance,​ ​we
intend​ ​to​ ​vote​ ​“yes”​ ​on​ ​this​ ​question,​ ​and​ ​we​ ​believe​ ​others​ ​should​ ​do​ ​so​ ​too.​ ​ ​Here​ ​are​ ​our​ ​reasons.

1. Restoring​ ​democratic​ ​accountability​.​ ​ ​The​ ​foundation​ ​of​ ​all​ ​legitimate​ ​democratic​ ​government​ ​is
accountability​ ​to​ ​the​ ​people.​ ​ ​If​ ​that​ ​is​ ​lacking,​ ​nothing​ ​else​ ​matters.​ ​ ​In​ ​New​ ​York​ ​State,​ ​the
problems​ ​are​ ​well-known​ ​and​ ​long-standing:​ ​bipartisan​ ​gerrymandering;​ ​party​ ​cross-endorsement
of​ ​candidates;​ ​abysmal​ ​voter​ ​turnout;​ ​a​ ​lack​ ​of​ ​meaningful​ ​controls​ ​on​ ​campaign​ ​finance;
closed-door​ ​policy​ ​making​ ​by​ ​three​ ​men​ ​in​ ​a​ ​room​ ​rather​ ​than​ ​openly​ ​in​ ​a​ ​democratically​ ​elected
legislature;​ ​and​ ​restrictive,​ ​highly​ ​technical​ ​ballot​ ​access​ ​laws​ ​that​ ​prevent​ ​challenges​ ​by​ ​outsiders​ ​to
the​ ​entrenched​ ​political​ ​establishment.​ ​ ​All​ ​these​ ​have​ ​a​ ​constitutional​ ​dimension.

2. Imposing​ ​political​ ​ethics​.​ ​ ​This​ ​lack​ ​of​ ​democratic​ ​accountability​ ​has​ ​enabled​ ​elected​ ​state​ ​officials
to​ ​behave​ ​with​ ​shocking​ ​impunity:​ ​more​ ​state​ ​legislators​ ​have​ ​left​ ​office​ ​under​ ​criminal​ ​prosecution,
threat​ ​of​ ​prosecution,​ ​or​ ​death​ ​than​ ​by​ ​being​ ​voted​ ​out.​ ​ ​State​ ​government​ ​will​ ​not​ ​reform​ ​itself;
incumbents​ ​have​ ​too​ ​much​ ​to​ ​lose.​ ​ ​Despite​ ​repeated​ ​calls​ ​for​ ​action​ ​and​ ​many​ ​promises,​ ​the
legislature​ ​has​ ​failed​ ​meaningfully​ ​to​ ​open​ ​and​ ​democratize​ ​state​ ​governance​ ​or​ ​to​ ​regulate​ ​its​ ​own
ethics.​ ​ ​A​ ​convention​ ​would​ ​allow​ ​the​ ​people​ ​to​ ​do​ ​it​ ​for​ ​them.

3. Reforming​ ​the​ ​state​ ​judiciary​.​ ​ ​The​ ​former​ ​Chief​ ​Judge​ ​of​ ​New​ ​York​ ​has​ ​called​ ​the​ ​state​ ​court
system​ ​the​ ​“most​ ​un-unified,​ ​dis-unified,​ ​fragmented,​ ​cumbersome,​ ​complicated,​ ​antiquated​ ​trial
court​ ​system​ ​in​ ​the​ ​United​ ​States.”​ ​ ​ ​The​ ​inefficiencies​ ​created​ ​by​ ​the​ ​constitutionally-based
fragmentation​ ​of​ ​the​ ​system​ ​have​ ​been​ ​estimated​ ​to​ ​cost​ ​the​ ​State,​ ​litigants,​ ​businesses,​ ​and
municipalities​ ​an​ ​unnecessary​ ​half-billion​ ​dollars​ ​per​ ​year.​ ​ ​This​ ​system​ ​is​ ​in​ ​desperate​ ​need​ ​of
simplification.

4. Opportunities​ ​for​ ​positive​ ​change​.​ ​ ​We​ ​are​ ​people​ ​of​ ​disparate​ ​views​ ​who​ ​would​ ​not​ ​necessarily
agree​ ​on​ ​other​ ​items​ ​of​ ​reform.​ ​ ​Nevertheless,​ ​we​ ​believe​ ​a​ ​convention​ ​offers​ ​a​ ​rare​ ​and​ ​valuable
opportunity​ ​for​ ​reflection​ ​and​ ​debate​ ​on​ ​many​ ​other​ ​issues​ ​that​ ​the​ ​legislature​ ​has​ ​failed​ ​repeatedly
to​ ​take​ ​up.​ ​ ​Regardless​ ​of​ ​the​ ​outcome​ ​of​ ​those​ ​deliberations,​ ​we​ ​believe​ ​the​ ​opportunity​ ​should​ ​be
seized​ ​to​ ​give​ ​mature​ ​and​ ​deliberate​ ​consideration​ ​to:

a. Strengthening​ ​environmental​ ​protection.
b. Improving​ ​the​ q
​ uality​ ​and​ ​fairness​ ​of​ ​the​ ​State’s​ ​educational​ ​system.
c. Strengthening​ l​ ocal​ ​government.
d. Establishing​ ​constitutional​ ​rules​ ​of​ ​succession​ ​to​ ​the​ ​governorship.
e. Modernizing​ s​ tate​ ​and​ ​local​ ​finances.
f. Ensuring​ ​that​ r​ ights​ ​threatened​ ​in​ ​Washington​ ​are​ ​protected​ ​here.

5. Objections​ ​by​ ​opponents​ ​are​ ​unpersuasive​.​ ​ ​Some​ ​have​ ​already​ ​come​ ​out​ ​against​ ​a​ ​constitutional
convention.​ ​ ​We​ ​believe​ ​their​ ​objections​ ​are​ ​inadequate,​ ​and​ ​we​ ​take​ ​issue​ ​with​ ​their​ ​appeal​ ​to​ ​fear
rather​ ​than​ ​reasonable​ ​and​ ​justified​ ​hope.​ ​ ​A​ ​convention​ ​is​ ​not​ ​merely​ ​an​ ​opportunity​ ​for​ ​the
political​ ​establishment​ ​to​ ​preserve​ ​or​ ​even​ ​worsen​ ​the​ ​status​ ​quo.​ ​ ​Unlike​ ​a​ ​legislature,​ ​a​ ​state
constitutional​ ​convention​ ​lasts​ ​for​ ​only​ ​a​ ​few​ ​months.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​temporary.​ ​It​ ​sustains​ ​no​ ​careers,​ ​has​ ​no
“institutional​ ​interest.”​ ​It​ ​does​ ​its​ ​job​ ​and​ ​dissolves.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​we​ ​the​ ​people​ ​who​ ​call​ ​a​ ​convention​ ​to​ ​life;.
we​ ​who​ ​elect​ ​those​ ​who​ ​serve​ ​as​ ​delegates;.​ ​we​ ​who​ ​must​ ​approve​ ​any​ ​constitutional​ ​changes​ ​a
convention​ ​may​ ​recommend.​ ​Nothing​ ​can​ ​or​ ​will​ ​sneak​ ​by​ ​unnoticed,​ ​as​ ​things​ ​often​ ​do​ ​at​ ​the​ ​close
of​ ​annual​ ​legislative​ ​sessions.

Objection​ ​by​ ​entrenched​ ​politicians​ ​is​ ​to​ ​be​ ​expected;​ ​a​ ​convention​ ​will​ ​very​ ​likely​ ​threaten
legislative​ ​leaders’​ ​iron​ ​grip​ ​on​ ​power.​ ​ ​More​ ​difficult​ ​to​ ​explain​ ​is​ ​opposition​ ​raised​ ​by​ ​groups​ ​with
long-frustrated​ ​change​ ​agendas.​ ​ ​Such​ ​groups,​ ​representing​ ​diverse​ ​sides​ ​of​ ​many​ ​issues,​ ​appear​ ​so
terrified​ ​of​ ​one​ ​another​ ​that​ ​they​ ​would​ ​rather​ ​see​ ​the​ ​perpetuation​ ​of​ ​an​ ​unacceptable​ ​status​ ​quo
than​ ​undergo​ ​the​ ​risk​ ​of​ ​open​ ​and​ ​frank​ ​debate​ ​on​ ​the​ ​issues​ ​that​ ​a​ ​convention​ ​will​ ​provide.​ ​ ​In​ ​fact,
there​ ​is​ ​no​ ​possibility​ ​that​ ​a​ ​constitutional​ ​convention​ ​could​ ​be​ ​“captured”​ ​by​ ​any​ ​particular​ ​interest
group.​ ​ ​Support​ ​for​ ​the​ ​convention​ ​is​ ​rising​ ​from​ ​the​ ​grass​ ​roots,​ ​from​ ​people​ ​all​ ​across​ ​New​ ​York
who’ve​ ​had​ ​enough​ ​of​ ​business​ ​as​ ​usual​ ​in​ ​our​ ​state​ ​government.​ ​ ​ ​These​ ​New​ ​Yorkers​ ​will​ ​be​ ​the
ones​ ​who​ ​elect​ ​delegates​ ​to​ ​the​ ​convention,​ ​and​ ​they,​ ​not​ ​interest​ ​groups,​ ​will​ ​set​ ​its​ ​agenda.

The​ ​existing​ ​constitutional​ ​provisions​ ​most​ ​often​ ​said​ ​to​ ​be​ ​at​ ​risk​ ​–​ ​like​ ​the​ ​assurance​ ​that​ ​our
Adirondack​ ​and​ ​Catskill​ ​Preserves​ ​remain​ ​“forever​ ​wild,”​ ​the​ ​guarantee​ ​of​ ​public​ ​employee​ ​pension
rights,​ ​the​ ​state’s​ ​unique​ ​commitment​ ​to​ ​provide​ ​for​ ​its​ ​poor​ ​-​ ​were​ ​put​ ​into​ ​our​ ​constitution​ b ​ y
earlier​ ​conventions.​ ​Environmental​ ​and​ ​worker​ ​protections​ ​and​ ​our​ ​core​ ​social​ ​commitments​ ​can​ ​be
strengthened​ ​if​ ​we​ ​call​ ​one​ ​this​ ​year.​ ​ ​There​ ​is​ ​no​ ​experience​ ​in​ ​the​ ​state’s​ ​long​ ​history​ ​of​ ​a
convention​ ​diminishing​ ​rights​ ​and​ ​protections,​ ​only​ ​expanding​ ​them.

For​ ​these​ ​reasons,​ ​we​ ​will​ ​vote​ ​“yes”​ ​on​ ​a​ ​constitutional​ ​convention​ ​in​ ​November,​ ​and​ ​urge​ ​all​ ​citizens
to​ ​do​ ​the​ ​same.

AGREED​ ​TO​ ​BY​ ​THE​ ​UNDERSIGNED

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[Institutional​ ​affiliations​ ​are​ ​provided​ ​for​ ​identification​ ​purposes​ ​only.​ ​ ​The​ ​views​ ​expressed​ ​herein​ ​are
those​ ​of​ ​the​ ​individuals​ ​named,​ ​and​ ​should​ ​not​ ​be​ ​attributed​ ​to​ ​the​ ​institutions​ ​with​ ​which​ ​they​ ​are
affiliated.]

Gerald​ ​Benjamin SUNY​ ​New​ ​Paltz

Richard​ ​Briffault Columbia​ ​Law​ ​School

Keith​ ​J.​ ​Bybee Syracuse​ ​University

James​ ​Cauthen John​ ​Jay​ ​College,​ ​CUNY

Christopher​ ​Drennan Clinton​ ​Community​ ​College

Henrik​ ​N.​ ​Dullea Cornell​ ​University

Daniel​ ​Feldman John​ ​Jay​ ​College,​ ​CUNY

Lucinda​ ​Finley University​ ​at​ ​Buffalo​ ​School​ ​of​ ​Law,​ ​SUNY

Esther​ ​Fuchs Columbia​ ​University

Peter​ ​Galie Canisius​ ​College

James​ ​A.​ ​Gardner University​ ​at​ ​Buffalo​ ​School​ ​of​ ​Law,​ ​SUNY

Steven​ ​R.​ ​Greenwald Wagner​ ​College

Alexander​ ​Hertel-Fernandez Columbia​ ​University

Nancy​ ​Kassop SUNY​ ​New​ ​Paltz

Ethan​ ​Leib Fordham​ ​Law​ ​School

Mary​ ​Lyndon St.​ ​John’s​ ​University

Michael​ ​Malbin University​ ​at​ ​Albany,​ ​SUNY

Thomas​ ​Mandeville Clinton​ ​Community​ ​College

Burt​ ​Neuborne New​ ​York​ ​University​ ​Law​ ​School

Richard​ ​L.​ ​Ottinger Pace​ ​University​ ​Law​ ​School

Jessica​ ​Owley University​ ​at​ ​Buffalo​ ​School​ ​of​ ​Law,​ ​SUNY

Eduardo​ ​Peñalver Cornell​ ​Law​ ​School

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Justin​ ​Phillips Columbia​ ​University

Nicholas​ ​A.​ ​Robinson Pace​ ​University​ ​Law​ ​School

Jennifer​ ​Rodgers Columbia​ ​Law​ ​School,​ ​Center​ ​for​ ​the​ ​Advancement​ ​of​ ​Public​ ​Integrity

David​ ​S.​ ​Schoenbrod New​ ​York​ ​Law​ ​School

Donna​ ​E.​ ​Shalala University​ ​of​ ​Miami

Matthew​ ​Steilen University​ ​at​ ​Buffalo​ ​School​ ​of​ ​Law,​ ​SUNY

Rick​ ​Su University​ ​at​ ​Buffalo​ ​School​ ​of​ ​Law,​ ​SUNY

Philip​ ​Weinberg Pace​ ​University​ ​Law​ ​School

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