MANHATTAN (CN) - The New York Civil Liberties Union is challenging the expulsion of Hiram Monserrate from his state Senate seat, saying his removal for misdemeanor assault effectively nullifies his election, undermining voters' democratic rights.
In an amicus brief filed in Federal Court, the NYCLU argues that the state Senate could have exercised the more "narrowly tailored" remedy of censuring Monserrate rather than expelling him. The absence of standards governing state senator expulsion threatens New Yorkers' voting and First Amendment rights, the NYCLU says.
In October 2009, Monserrate was convicted of third-degree misdemeanor assault for allegedly slashing his girlfriend in the face with a broken glass during a fight.
The New York Senate voted 53-8 to expel him on Feb. 9.
"Hiram Monserrate without question engaged in reprehensible behavior, and his colleagues in the State Senate were right to want to punish him," NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman said in a statement. "But the people's right to elect their leaders is fundamental to our democracy. Removing an elected representative without clear standards and when censure is available creates a dangerous and open-ended precedent to undo the will of the people."
Arthur Eisenberg, NYCLU's legal director, added: "This controversy is a difficult yet important test of our commitment to democratic values.
"In the minds of many, if not most people, Mr. Monserrate is believed to have engaged in a brutal act of domestic abuse not withstanding his acquittal on the more serious charges. In such a circumstance, there may well be a popular impulse to compromise constitutional principles as inconvenient and obstructive of the sincere yet clamorous call for Mr. Monserrate's removal. However, it is a particular responsibility of the NYCLU to insist upon adherence to our most cherished values even in the face of an unpopular cause."
The NYCLU insists that its challenge has nothing to do with Monserrate serving as a board member from 1998 to 2001.