Court to NY Senate: Take care of your own business

Earlier today, I warned that court intervention in the leadership fight within the New York state senate could create damaging encroachment on the legislative branch from the judiciary.  In a pleasantly surprising decision, the judge in the case agreed, throwing out the Democrats’ attempt to get the court to award them control of the chamber.  Like any parent, he told the squabbling children to resolve their differences between them:

A state judge on Tuesday refused to overturn last week’s takeover of the State Senate by the Republicans, essentially leaving it to the Legislature to decide which party is in charge. …

The judge’s decision, issued by Justice Thomas J. McNamara of State Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon, effectively puts the Senate at a 31-to-31 deadlock, but it also leaves Senator Pedro Espada Jr., a Bronx Democrat who crossed party lines last week, as the president of the Senate.

The judge denied the Democrats’ case and their motion for a stay, and the Democrats indicated that they would appeal. But by late afternoon, Democrats said they would not appeal.

“A judicially imposed resolution would be an improvident intrusion into the internal workings of a co-equal branch of government,” Justice McNamara said, adding, “Go across the street and resolve this for the people of New York.”

It makes sense for legislatures to go to court when disputing some sort of jurisdictional dispute with the executive branch, or to settle the question of constitutionality of law.  It makes no sense at all for any legislature to rule on a leadership fight in either chamber in the American system of government.  The branches are independent and co-equal; under what understanding of any Constitution, state or federal, would the judiciary have jurisdiction over the selection of legislative leadership?

The only one making sense at the moment in Albany is Judge McNamara, who wisely passed on the opportunity to overreach.  Democrats and Republicans should heed his words and find a power-sharing accommodation if they want to get back to their jobs.  Perhaps we can boil McNamara’s ruling down to two words, from the late, great Dan O’Herlihy in Robocop 2: