New York City’s Alien Voting Law under Fire

Press Releases

May 26, 2022

IRLI shows court that law violates the Constitution

WASHINGTON—Today, the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in a case challenging a law the New York City Council has passed giving the right to vote in city elections to alien residents of the city who are permitted to work in the United States. At stake is the sovereignty of the people of the United States—American citizens—over the nation’s largest city.

In the judicial precedents interpreting the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, IRLI explains in its brief, discrimination against groups courts have held to be “protected classes” must be struck down unless it passes “strict scrutiny,” that is, can be shown to be necessary to achieve a compelling governmental interest. Aliens, racial groups, and groups defined by national origin have all been held to be protected classes.

IRLI shows that American citizens, too, should be considered a protected class. The alien voting law, IRLI points out, weakens the relative voting strength of American citizens in New York City, by letting those who are not citizens vote. The law also discriminates against voters in New York City who were born in this country and thus are of American national origin, because the law only adds foreign-born persons to the voting rolls, thus diluting the votes of the American-born. Those of American national origin are a protected class, as well, and laws burdening them have to receive strict scrutiny.

In fact, IRLI’s brief exposes the real motivation of this law: aggressive ethnic politics. Its proponents exalted that it would “shift” power away from the American-born to other national origin groups, such as New York City residents from the Dominican Republic, China, and Mexico, a large proportion of whom are not citizens. It would thus increase the power of politicians who regard themselves as representing not their citizen constituents, whether American- or foreign-born, but these national origin groups. In the words of one council member, “We’re all here to support our ethnic groups.”

The alien voting law cannot withstand the strict scrutiny demanded by its discrimination against American citizens and those of American national origin. Indeed, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that citizens have a right to be governed by their fellow citizens and not foreigners, and that aliens by definition are outside of our political community. This fundamental interest American citizens have in democratic self-government far outweighs any interest New York City might claim in giving the vote to aliens.

“It’s rare for a law passed in an American legislative body to burden those of American national origin, let alone American citizens,” said Christopher Hajec, IRLI’s director of litigation. “But this law does both. It’s a basic constitutional principle that the power of self-government may not be transferred away from citizens, including foreign-born citizens. And once you see the game of ethnic politics they were playing, at the expense of people born in the USA, it becomes glaringly clear that this law is unconstitutional discrimination in voting.”

“This law is an attack on the very idea of American nationhood,” said Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of IRLI. “The sovereign of this democratic nation is the people, U.S. citizens. When their power is eroded, our nation begins to lose its independence. And that erosion will escalate. If this law is not struck down, next there will be a call to allow aliens to vote in federal elections. We hope the court is assisted by our brief, and invalidates this assault on the sovereignty of the American people.”

The case is Fossella v. Adams, No. 85007/2022 (N.Y. Supreme Court, County of Richmond).

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