Restructuring the New York City Government: The Reemergence of Municipal Reform

By Frank J. Mauro; Gerald Benjamin | Go to book overview

Voting Rights and the Board of
Estimate: Prospects and Pitfalls

M. DAVID GELFAND

TERRY E. ALLBRITTON

In March 1989, the New York City Board of Estimate sustained a mortal injury at the hands of the United States Supreme Court, which, in Morris v. Board of Estimate, found the current structure to violate the constitutional requirement of "one person, one vote." Any restructuring of the Board to eliminate this deficiency must also take into account other voting-rights requirements that have been imposed by Congress and the Constitution. This essay describes and explains the constitutional and statutory framework for the protection of the voting rights of racial and language minorities, and it analyzes how specific proposals for restructuring the Board of Estimate are likely to fare in the courts, given this legal framework. 1

The Supreme Court has interpreted the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution to require a one-person, one-vote standard for election districts for state and general-purpose local governments, as well as in school districts. It was on this basis that the constitutionality of the structure of the New York City Board of Estimate was successfully challenged in the Morris case. In addition to that requirement, state and local electoral arrangements must provide for the "fair and effective representation" of members of racial and language minorities. This requirement derives from the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Fifteenth Amendment, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Consequently, any new structure for the Board of Estimate, or any body (or office) assuming its functions, must not only meet the one-person, one-vote standard but must also provide for fair and effective representation.


The Constitutional and Statutory Framework

The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, along with a number of

____________________
© 1989, Gelfand and Allbritton

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