On Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2018, New Yorkers reelected Andrew M. Cuomo to a third term as their governor. They did not crown him king; they did not grant him dictatorial powers; and they absolutely, positively did not cede to him any of their constitutional rights. Now, however, he’s reigning like a king, issuing orders like a dictator, and running roughshod over people’s most fundamental freedoms. Why, for heaven’s sake, are New Yorkers and their elected legislators letting him get away with it? One would think the entire state has been mugged, drugged, and zapped into zombies.
By declaring a state of emergency because of the coronavirus on March 7, Cuomo assumed extraordinary power over every New Yorker’s life. Invoking the Executive Law, supplemented in part by the action of a sharply divided legislature four days earlier, Cuomo has unilaterally modified or suspended at least 262 laws and regulations and issued 26 executive orders. Most alarming, he’s eviscerated numerous federal and state constitutional rights in the process. Unless the legislature or the judiciary intervenes, Cuomo’s dictatorship won’t even begin to expire until April 30, 2021.
Even if there was a legitimate argument for his assumption of emergency powers – and that’s debatable – there’s no reason to continue indulging him today. Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that a full one-third of those infected by the coronavirus experience no symptoms whatsoever. And, among those who do have symptoms, less than one-half of one percent die.
While that’s certainly nothing to scoff at – a single death is, after all, a tragedy – neither is it anything close to the doomsday scenarios that gave rise to Cuomo’s regal reign. Nor does it provide a rational basis for trampling on people’s constitutional rights, or plunging what had been an historically vibrant economy into a near depression.
Last week, Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis wrote to Cuomo urging him to allow dentists to resume treating patients for all of their dental needs. Think about that for a moment. Things have descended to such a level of absurdity that people need Andrew Cuomo’s approval to get their teeth fixed! As Louis F. DeSantis, a Staten Island-based prosthodontist, and former president of the Richmond County Dental Society, understandably complained, “I have patients actively breaking down and what would have been continued care is becoming urgent care”.
Also last week, several Staten Island restaurant owners told the Advance that unless Cuomo allows them to reopen very soon, they’ll be out of business for good. Rob DeLuca, of DeLuca’s Italian Restaurant in Tottenville, ordered a thousand signs proclaiming in part: “Attention Gov. Cuomo!!! You’re killing our businesses. Our families need to eat. Our employees need to work”.
Noting that most of his fellow restaurateurs spend 80-100 hours a week to make their businesses a success, he said, “We’re taking a stand as small business owners and restaurateurs. We’ve worked our entire life to get here and we’ve sacrificed so much and we can’t lose it now”.
Myriad other businesses are in the same boat, all waiting word from Cuomo as to when and under what conditions they can resume making a living. Houses of worship can’t reopen until Cuomo says so. Catholic Churches can’t resume Masses or dispense the sacraments unless Cuomo gives them the okay. Schools can’t reopen until Cuomo approves. People can only assemble under the conditions and circumstances he prescribes. Cuomo this; Cuomo that. Enough is enough!
Andrew Cuomo has this allegiance thing all wrong. He’s the people’s servant, not their master; He owes service to the people, and allegiance to the state and federal constitutions; The people owe him nothing.
There are hopeful signs. Calling for an end to Cuomo’s emergency powers, Assembly minority leader Will Barclay (R. Fulton) recently warned, “One-person rule is not how our system of government was ever designed to run”.
Meanwhile, Hoganwillig, an upstate New York law firm, has initiated suit in federal court challenging Cuomo’s “disturbing and gross abuse” of authority. Its 51-page complaint, bolstered with almost 200 supporting documents, presents a very persuasive case. And on May 13, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down a stay-at-home order that Gov. Tony Evers had issued a month earlier, holding that he abused his authority.
Whether Cuomo’s actions have been good, bad or somewhere in between is irrelevant. Nor does it matter that he may be no worse than other governors elsewhere. What matters is that his dictatorship is starkly alien to representative government. It must end now.
THIS CUOMO DICTATORSHIP MUST END NOW (5-26-20)
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Daniel Leddy's law column has been published by the Staten Island Advance for over 26 years, appearing every Tuesday on the editorial page. His most recent column appears below. An archive of his columns can be found here
ATTORNEY AT LAW