October 17, 2017
Michael L. Fox, assistant professor of business law and pre-law advisor (standing), moderated the recent Constitutional Convention panel at Mount Saint Mary College. He was joined by panelists (from left) Jeffrey S. Kahana, associate professor of history at the Mount; Henry M. Greenberg, Esq., of Greenberg Traurig, LLP, Albany, N.Y.; and Langdon C. Chapman, Esq., County Attorney for Orange County, N.Y.
New Yorkers have an important decision to make on November 7, when they vote on whether or not to hold a convention to potentially amend the State Constitution. A recent Mount Saint Mary College panel gathered students, faculty, staff, and members of the local community to discuss the pros and cons of such a venture.
The panel, hosted by the Mount’s School of Business, was moderated by Michael L. Fox, assistant professor of business law and pre-law advisor. It delved into the 13-word ballot referendum question: “Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?”
The event featured three local experts:
- Langdon C. Chapman, Esq., County Attorney, Orange County, N.Y.
- Henry M. Greenberg, Esq., Greenberg Traurig, LLP, Albany, N.Y.
- Jeffrey S. Kahana, associate professor of history, Mount Saint Mary College
The panelists noted that the New York Constitution mandates a convention vote at least once every 20 years, with the last convention being held in 1967. If a convention is held, the delegates can only suggest amendments, which will then be put on the ballot for voters to consider in 2019.
The New York State Constitution is a convoluted document, said Greenberg: It is a much larger document than the federal Constitution.
“While there are many beautiful, soaring rights unique to the State Constitution that you won’t find in the federal Constitution, New York’s Constitution is a 52,500 word colossus,” Greenberg explained. “Most of the document is unreadable verbiage. It covers provisions like canals [and] the width of ski hills.”
But while most who have read it agree that the document is in need of revision, it is difficult for them to decide how to go about it. One option is the Constitutional Convention.
Panelists took a neutral position, explaining the pros and cons of a convention.
According to Fox, proponents of a convention say the state needs to remove obsolete, inconsistent, or invalid portions of the current Constitution; reform and streamline the state’s court system; and protect additional civil and equal rights provisions, among other concerns.
Those in opposition, Greenberg added, have expressed fears that a convention, with the entire Constitution open to amendment or revision, could result in reduced protections for labor, civil rights, and the environment. They also have objections to the cost of a convention, and question why one is needed when a mechanism exists for the State Legislature to amend the Constitution, with ratification by vote of the People.