As soon as I wrote about the death of New York City’s speed cameras, the governor brought them back to life by unilaterally re-enacting the law authorizing them. Those of you who took civics classes might be wondering how he can do that.
Governor Cuomo says he can use a Frankenstein Veto. That’s where the governor excises small parts of a law to subvert its meaning.
The term came out of Wisconsin, where the constitution allowed the governor to veto individual words. If an enrolled bill said “The speed limit is 60, except 70 on freeways and 20 in school zones” the governor could cut that down to “The speed limit is 60, except 70 in school zones.” The final law could be assembled like Frankenstein’s monster from words of the original bill. Wisconsin voters partially dismembered the Frankenstein Veto in 2008 because it was undemocratic.
In New York it’s not simply a veto. It’s a retroactive veto.
The New York governor’s alleged power comes from the same sort of emergency law that the Massachusetts governor used to declare snowfall to be the legal equivalent of a Soviet nuclear attack. He says he has the power to suspend laws or parts of laws in a disaster. He’s going to suspend the words that said speed cameras expired, because losing robocops is a disaster on the scale of World War 3.
I called it an alleged power. I don’t think he cares if he can really do it. It’s a political reward to the city and a shift to the left in the face of primary opposition. As long as he gets away with it for three weeks, until the primary on September 13, it worked. (If he doesn’t get away with that’s not good news either. His primary opponent basically wants to ban fossil fuels.)
Legally there’s nothing special about this case. Cuomo could potentially revive any repealed law by suspending the repeal on the grounds that the repealed law could save a life. He could suspend the 65 mph speed limit… but he would probably just order the DOT to reduce the speed limit notwithstanding the law. He’s done it before.
While I would like to imagine the governor taking a long vacation in Florence for civil rights violations, it’s not going to happen. Top officials do not get in trouble for such abuses of power. In America even city officials have not faced personal liability for illegal use of ticket cameras. What usually happens is somebody spends years and many thousands of dollars in legal fees to appeal a $50 ticket to a real court to set a precedent. Years later, if the final decision is favorable, the city will stop issuing tickets. Mass refunds are rare and full refunds even rarer. Courts prefer to say each person who gets a $50 ticket has to spend thousands of dollars fighting it. If you pay the ticket, you lose. If you throw the ticket away, you lose.
The law in its majesty permits rich and poor alike to hire lawyers at their own expense to make the government do its job.
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