Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

State Courts, Federalist Principles

New York City is now faced with a budgetary crunch. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as CEO of New York City, is now doing what any other CEO would and should do in such a situation -- he is looking for ways to cut expenditures. One such cost-cutting measure contemplated by the Bloomberg administration is the demotion and/or layoff of some Deputy Sheriffs. The Deputy Sheriffs, what with their union representation, went to court to attempt to keep their jobs.

And Supreme Court Justice Emily Jane Goodman (in New York, the Supreme Court is the LOWEST court of general jurisdiction, the trial court) issued a Temporary Restraining Order prohibiting the demotions or layoffs until a hearing is held and the TRO is lifted.

Bloomie didn't like the Judge's decision, and he was not reticent to express his mind, in relatively strident terms, on his weekly radio program. Specifically, he called upon Judge Jonathan Lippman, the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals (the Highest court in the State of New York), to step in and give Justice Goodman a talking-to.

For those unfamiliar with court procedures, this would constitute a significant circumvention of the normal order of things (and in fact would be highly illegal). According to the duly legislated procedures, Justice Goodman will hold her hearing, and then, if any party is dissatisfied, they can appeal to the Appellate Division. Then, and only then (and only if the statutory conditions for appealability pertain), can the case go to the Court of Appeals and be heard by Chief Judge Lippman.

And now, the New York County Lawyers Association has come down very hard against Bloomie's judge-bashing remarks.

I have mixed feelings about this all. On one hand, the Mayor should be able to control the NYC budget, and cut back on expenses. On the other hand, the Deputy Sheriffs have the right to fight to keep their jobs. And yes, Bloomberg's remarks were very high-handed, and I'll even go so far to say that they were unbecoming of a man who is supposed to set the public tone for law and order. But he does have certain freedoms of expression.

The NYCLA does have credibility, and has long occupied the moral high ground. After all, in the early 1950's, NYCLA admitted members without regard to race, ethnicity, religion or gender when the other leading lawyer's professional organization in New York City, the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, effectively discriminated against Jews, Irish, Blacks and women (though ABCNY has certainly distanced itself far beyond that mindset during the ensuing years).

And Justice Goodman, whose accomplished career as a journalist did not come to an abrupt halt at her robing ceremony, does not seem to be fazed by Hizzoner's strident remarks.

What is now happening is precisely what "Publius" (it is uncertain whether it was Alexander Hamilton or James Madison) expounded in Federalist Paper No. 51, which was specifically addressed to the People of the State of New York and published in the New York Packet on 8 February 1788:

"To what expedient, then, shall we finally resort, for maintaining in practice the necessary partition of power among the several departments, as laid down in the Constitution? The only answer that can be given is, that as all these exterior provisions are found to be inadequate, the defect must be supplied, by so contriving the interior structure of the government as that its several constituent parts may, by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places."

In other words, the various branches of the government must provide checks and balances upon one another so that no one branch oversteps its bounds.

Those Deputy Sheriffs may well be cut from the public payroll, or they may continue to burden New York City's budget (and being that the New York City budget is heavily subsidized by infusions from Albany, the burden will fall more upon the taxpayers of the State than upon the City). Whichever way the matter is ultimately resolved, it will be done so in a manner that keeps too much power from being concentrated in the hands of too few. It may not be the most efficient way in the world, but given Mr. Bloomberg's proven propensity to play the nanny in the personal lives of his constituents, I'll take a little inefficiency over an unchecked appetite for tyranny.

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