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Appeal Imminent After NY Judge Blocks Equal Rights Amendment From Ballot

The amendment effort "will not be thrown off track by one extremist judge," Gov. Kathy Hochul said.

Demonstrators march during a protest for abortion rights on June 24, 2022, in New York City.

A New York judge has upended an effort to strengthen protections against discrimination in the state constitution, an action that will likely be appealed soon.

The measure in question is described as New York’s Equal Rights Amendment, as it updates the state’s constitution to expand anti-discrimination protections for groups of people who previously weren’t covered. Currently, the constitution bars discrimination against people based on race, color, creed and religion. The amendment would add other protections against discrimination, including discrimination based on a person’s ethnicity, national origin, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, as well as reproductive health choices, including pregnancy and/or pregnancy outcomes (such as abortion).

Rochester-based state Supreme Court Justice Daniel J. Doyle ruled last week to block the amendment proposal, which was set to go before voters as a ballot measure in November. Doyle agreed with claims from a state Republican lawmaker that the measure was passed by the state legislature last summer in a manner that was improper and out of order, thereby negating its ability to move forward.

State constitutional amendments are supposed to be approved by the state attorney general’s office before the legislature can vote on them being included on the ballot. In July of 2023, the legislature voted on passing the measure, and Attorney General Letitia James (D) approved it days later instead.

The state argued in favor of allowing the measure to proceed anyway, noting that the legislature substantially complied with the way the amendment should be passed. In his ruling, Doyle expressed his disagreement.

“‘Substantial compliance’ is not compliance, and this court cannot condone actions taken by the Legislature in derogation of the expressed will of the people,” Doyle wrote in his opinion.

After his ruling was rendered, critics and supporters of the amendment noted that the process hasn’t always followed the standard that Doyle said should be strictly adhered by.

“More than a dozen constitutional amendments have proceeded in this exact manner in the last 50 years — and all made it on the ballot,” said Andrew Taverrite, communications director for New Yorkers for Equal Rights, a group that supports the measure.

Polling shows wide support in the state for passage of the amendment, with a survey published in March demonstrating that more than 7 in 10 New Yorkers (71 percent) would vote in favor of the measure.

Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul issued a statement disagreeing with Doyle’s ruling, noting that the measure would have enshrined abortion rights specifically within the state constitution.

Said Hochul:

At a time when Donald Trump and his anti-abortion allies in New York are trying to undermine our rights, we have the chance to show them what our state truly stands for. … Our decades-long fight to protect equality and reproductive freedom will not be thrown off track by one extremist judge and I look forward to casting my ballot for the Equal Rights Amendment in November.

AG James also promised to challenge the ruling in a higher court. Under state law, she can move to have the State Court of Appeals, the highest court in New York, hear the case right away, expediting the judicial review process to ensure that the measure can be put back on the ballot, if that’s what they eventually decide.

“This is a disappointing court decision, but we will appeal because New Yorkers deserve to be protected by their constitution, especially as our basic freedoms and rights are under attack,” James said in a statement reacting to the ruling.