Ordered Liberty: A Constitutional History of New York

By Peter J. Galie | Go to book overview

16
Toward the Year 2000:
Reflections on New York's
Constitutional Tradition

THE CURRENT NEW YORK CONSTITUTION comprises twenty articles containing over 50,000 words. Six provide the framework for government: the Legislature (Art. III), the Executive (Art. IV), the Judiciary (Art. VI), State Offices (Art. V), Public Officers (Art. XIII), and Local Government (Art. IX). Two establish the rights of citizens: The Bill of Rights (Art. I) and Suffrage (Art. II). Ten -- half the constitution -- concern substantive or policy issues: State Finance (VII), Local Finance (VIII), Corporations (X), Education (XI), Defense (XII), Conservation (XIV), Canals (XV), Taxation (XVI), Social Welfare (XVII), and Housing (XVIII). Finally, Article XIX allows for amending the constitution, and Article XX concerns the time of taking effect.

The fundamentals of the state constitution were shaped in the nineteenth century. Three defining factors stand out: an aversion to special legislation, democratization of the polity, and constitutionalizing of public policy.

That tradition understood the government's role as limited not so much by an ideology of laissez-faire as by an ideology which saw government as a neutral actor in judging competing claims of those who would have it act for their benefit. Government would intervene when a clear public purpose justified action, but would not intervene when such action advanced the interest of one group or individual at the expense of another. The real bête noire for nineteenth-century constitution-makers was special privilege in the form of special charters, and special legislation. Much of their effort was concentrated on preventing passage of such special legislation. In pursuit of this goal numerous restrictions were placed on the legislature concerning both the substance of, and procedures for, passing legislation, and limitaz-

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