A green light universally means go, but not so for the highly controversial New York law that takes its name from it, at least not yet.
The Green Light Law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo narrowly passed in June, a woefully misguided effort to reward immigrants here in the state illegally with state-sanctioned drivers licenses, remains stalled two months before it is supposed to take effect.
Arguments are set to begin in 10 days in the first of two constitutional challenges to the law. First in line is Erie County Clerk Michael “Mickey” Kearns before federal Judge Elizabeth Wolford in Buffalo. The other challenge, along similar grounds, is brought by our own Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola, in federal court in Albany, although Judge Gary L. Sharpe, who will be hearing the Merola challenge, has put a stay on those proceedings until the Buffalo case is resolved.
But at the same time, Sharpe denied a motion by state attorneys defending the law to combine the two cases. Therefore much depends on what happens in Buffalo, since it could set a precedent for Sharpe. It also means that any action stemming from Green Light may take awhile, particularly since appeals are likely to materialize regardless of outcome.
What’s being challenged is simple. How can a state law explicitly bar officials like Kearns and Merola from revealing the names of illegals seeking these licenses, when a federal law makes it a crime to “conceal, harbor or shield from detection an individual living illegally in the United States”?
Of course this issue is deeply polarized along party lines, is one of several blurred faces on our vastly complex and inadequate federal immigration policy, and has become an emotional badge of honor for a liberal state like New York. Teasing all that apart is not easy. Although the citizens of New York have weighed all that already and consistently opposed handing out state licenses to illegals. The latest Siena College poll in September has it at 50-45 against.
Kearns v. Cuomo and the State of New York is rich with irony.
Leading up to the passage of the Green Light Bill, the governor was in support publicly if tepidly, and also promised to sign the legislation should it pass, while at the same time sending out emissaries to the Legislature to quash it for this year. He went on radio and predicted what the challenges would be over the constitutionality, and he was none too sure the state would prevail. He also sounded a warning that proponents of the bill might unintentionally be putting illegals in harm’s way in terms of immigration enforcement. That’s all still in play. The governor’s arm twisting didn’t work because the new Democratic Senate majority, full of itself, would not take no for an answer, and here we are. Wherever that is.
The soup got a little thicker last week when a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney in Buffalo, James P. Kennedy, petitioned the court to intervene, presumably on Kearns’ behalf, although that is not clear. So add the dimension of an active legal intervention by the Justice Department of a national administration as popular as a root canal and it just makes it hard to know who to support here. Although not really. The law should never have been passed until the people were ready for it and it could be written to work with rather than against federal law.
At the same time a host of interested parties are scrambling to file friends-of-the-court briefs in the Kearns challenge, for and against, and the judge has denied most of them. Regrettably, she did allow a brief from a coalition of seven states, led by Connecticut, that already allow some form of licenses to illegals, attesting that it’s a good idea. The brief states it believes the New York Green Light Law will benefit in terms of public safety. This is borderline twaddle, since there is very little data and few studies on licensed illegals and accidents.
The one good study from California showed a mixed bag, a drop in hit-and-run accidents, but not in the actual number of accidents. A key, I suppose, is how many illegals would go out and buy car insurance, and we haven’t a clue.
What we do know is that the states filing that brief are defending themselves, since if New York falls so will they, because similar language is in many of their laws.
So we struggle on with this idiotic bit of social engineering, and we are not alone. Next door our sister state of Massachusetts is having the same difficulty coming to a consensus over licenses for illegals. The usual urban-rural divide exists in a state even more liberal than New York. Although with a very popular governor, Charlie Baker, who happens to be a modern rarity, a moderate if not left-leaning Republican.
He’s promised to veto any bill, and proponents do not have nearly the votes for an override. So that’s that. New York is not so lucky.
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