The New York Civil Liberties Union today filed papers in federal court supporting Senator Hiram Monserrate’s lawsuit challenging his recent expulsion from the New York State Senate.
“Hiram Monserrate without question engaged in reprehensible behavior, and his colleagues in the State Senate were right to want to punish him,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “But the people’s right to elect their leaders is fundamental to our democracy. Removing an elected representative without clear standards and when censure is available creates a dangerous and open-ended precedent to undo the will of the people.”
The NYCLU’s amicus brief, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, maintains that the Senate was wrong to expel Monserrate, effectively nullifying an election, when the more “narrowly tailored” remedy of censuring him was available. Additionally, it argues that the lack of any standards governing the expulsion of a senator endangers New Yorkers’ voting rights and First Amendment rights to support a candidate and have that candidate serve if elected.
“This controversy is a difficult yet important test of our commitment to democratic values,” said Arthur Eisenberg, the NYCLU’s legal director. “Domestic abuse is a deeply malevolent problem that properly requires both vigorous responses by law enforcement and pointed condemnation by society as a whole.
“In the minds of many, if not most people, Mr. Monserrate is believed to have engaged in a brutal act of domestic abuse not withstanding his acquittal on the more serious charges. In such a circumstance, there may well be a popular impulse to compromise constitutional principles as inconvenient and obstructive of the sincere yet clamorous call for Mr. Monserrate’s removal. However, it is a particular responsibility of the NYCLU to insist upon adherence to our most cherished values even in the face of an unpopular cause.”
While Monserrate was an NYCLU Board Member from 1998 to 2001, that in no way influenced the NYCLU’s position.