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Fletcher v. Marino

decided: June 20, 1989.

OSCEOLA L. FLETCHER, GLORIA B. CORLEY, JOSEPH JEFFRIES-EL, NILDA MUNOZ, CARMEN MALDONADO, FELIX VASQUEZ, MAURICE GUMBS, SAM LAMBERT, LUCY LUCAS, CARLOS RONDON, CATHERINE CRAIG, WANDA LOPEZ, ANITA VAS GARCIA, ELBA ROMAN, BEATRICE DE SAPIO, JACQUES PESSAH, JOSEPH IORIO, SHELDON PLOTNICK, JAY GOLDMAN, RHODA WATTMAN, SHELDON FINE, IRENE BARBARO, JAMES C. SULLIVAN, IRVING SCHWARTZ, COLLEEN A. EDMONDSON, PHILLIP SCALA AND ALL PERSONS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
RALPH MARINO, BOTH INDIVIDUALLY AND AS TEMPORARY PRESIDENT AND MAJORITY LEADER OF THE NEW YORK STATE SENATE, THE STATE SENATE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, MELVIN MILLER, BOTH INDIVIDUALLY AND AS SPEAKER OF THE ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, THE ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, MARIO CUOMO, BOTH INDIVIDUALLY AND AS GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, STANLEY LUNDINE, BOTH INDIVIDUALLY AND AS LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK AND AS PRESIDING OFFICER AND PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, BERNARD MECKLOWITZ, ACTING CHANCELLOR OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, *FN* BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, THE BOARD OF ELECTIONS OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, AND ROBERT ABRAMS AS THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Expedited appeals from an amended judgment entered in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Costantino, J., declaring that portions of the New York State law governing elections to New York City community school boards are unconstitutional. Nos. 1381, 1382. Reversed.

Meskill, Pierce and Mahoney, Circuit Judges.

MESKILL, Circuit Judge:

These are expedited appeals from an amended judgment entered pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b) in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Costantino, J., that granted plaintiffs-appellees' request for a declaration that portions of the New York State law governing elections for New York City community school boards are unconstitutional. Because newly elected school board members were to be sworn in on July 1, 1989, we issued a summary order on June 20, 1989, noting that a full opinion would follow. We now set forth the reasons for our decision of June 20, 1989 reversing the judgment of the district court.

BACKGROUND

In 1969, New York State established a decentralized system to operate New York City schools below the high school level. See N.Y.Educ.Law §§ 2590 to 2590-n (McKinney 1981 & Supp. 1989), as amended by Act of Dec. 19, 1988, ch. 739, 1988 N.Y.Laws 1551 (McKinney 1989) (the Serrano Law). Under this framework, New York City public schools are governed by two distinct bodies: community school boards and the New York City Board of Education.

Currently, there are thirty-two community school boards in New York City. Under the decentralized system, these community school boards run New York City schools from the pre-kindergarten and nursery school levels through the junior high school level. Id. § 2590-e. The community boards have the power, inter alia, to hire teachers, principals and other school employees, to determine which textbooks students will use, to operate school buildings and to provide for and operate school cafeterias and meal services. Id. The Board of Education has the same powers over the City's high schools, in addition to such broader powers as approval of systemwide curricula and determination of city-wide policy for all schools. Id. § 2590-g. Before its amendment by the Serrano Law, section 2590-c.4 provided that community school board members could not be employed by the district for which they served as a board member.

In 1987, a Bronx grand jury inquiring into the influence of politics in the decentralized system released a report entitled "Politics in Our School System: A Corrupting Influence." The grand jury found that improper political influences existed in the system and that persons with positions on community school boards often used their positions to help their friends and political allies. Similarly, some community board members used their positions to procure the political services of school system employees.

This political favoritism extended beyond simple intradistrict exchanges. Community school board members would on occasion aid friends who were employees of other districts, who could in turn aid the community board member's own career. The grand jury report cites the case of one community school board member who was a member of a voting bloc on his community board. This member chose a "former teaching associate" as a candidate for an assistant principal's job in the member's district. Because of the voting bloc, this candidate was assured of receiving the position. Two years after the candidate was selected for the assistant principal's job, the community board member who selected him received "a high level position as an assistant to the superintendent in the district where the assistant principal was now a new Board member."

In addition, the grand jury found that teachers and other community school board employees had at times been asked to participate in political activities while they were in school. Abuses were so common that "candidates recommended by political leaders received virtually automatic support from certain [community] School Board members." The grand jury recommended, inter alia, that "no Board of Education employee should serve on a Community School Board" and that "no elected official should serve on a Community School Board." Apparently in response to the grand jury report and other allegations of misconduct, New York adopted the Serrano Law on December 19, 1988.

The Serrano Law made several changes in the laws governing the New York City school system. The provision at issue in these appeals altered section 2590-c.4 to read, in pertinent part:

A member of a community board shall be ineligible to be employed by the community board of which he is a board member, any other community board or the city board. No person shall be eligible for membership on a community board if he holds any elective public office or any elective or appointed party position except that of delegate or alternate delegate to a national, state, judicial or other party convention, or member of a county committee.

Act of Dec. 19, 1988, ch. 739, § 3, 1988 N.Y.Laws at 1552. A new subdivision states that community school board elections are to be governed by New York election law "so far as applicable." Id. § 5, 1988 N.Y.Laws at 1553. While the education law does not define the term "party position," as used in section 2590-c.4, the election law on the other hand defines it as "membership on a party committee or the position of delegate or alternate to a party convention." N.Y.Elec.Law § 1-104.4 (McKinney 1978). "Party" is defined as "any political organization which at the last preceding election for governor polled at least fifty thousand votes for its candidate for governor." Id. § 1-104.3.

Plaintiffs-appellees are members of community school boards, employees of community school boards and the Board of Education, party committee members, voters in New York City and parents.*fn1 The complaint alleges that one plaintiff, Jay Goldman, "has elected not to seek reelection to the [community school] Board of which he was President because of Sarano [sic] legislation."

Plaintiffs alleged five causes of action, only two of which are at issue in these appeals.*fn2 These two claims (plaintiffs' fourth and fifth causes of action) are that the Serrano Law's restriction on persons eligible to serve on community school boards violates plaintiffs' "first and fourteenth [amendment] rights by potentially limiting their ability to seek [the] public office of Member of [a] Community School Board," and that this same provision violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments and 42 U.S.C. § 1973 (1982) by denying plaintiffs their rights "to select a candidate of their choice as [a] member of [a] community school board."

The district court consolidated plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction on these two counts with the trial on the merits, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 65(a)(2), and granted plaintiffs' request for a declaration that the Serrano Law was unconstitutional. It denied plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction, however. In an opinion filed on April 26, 1989, the district court reasoned that the Serrano Law has a "chilling effect" on persons who otherwise might run for a community school board position, even though the law did not by its terms prevent anyone from running for office. The court concluded that the statute was "not carefully ...


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