On May 19, 2023, the New York State Court of Appeals, in a unanimous decision, invalidated a local law instituting term limits for all elected officials of the Town of Clarkstown.[1] Local Law No. 9-2014, the law at issue, established an eight-year term limit for all Town of Clarkstown elected officials and mandated that only a supermajority of the Clarkstown Town Board could repeal these term limits.[2] The Court of Appeals granted leave to appeal in this matter after the Appellate Division, Second Department, in a 3-1 decision, held that the Clarkstown law was invalid.[3] 

Supporters of the law argued that the challenge to the law—which was enacted in 2014—was subject to either a 4-month or a 6-year statute of limitations and, therefore, that the challenge was time-barred.[4] Opponents argued that according to New York’s Municipal Home Rule Law, any local law that reduces the power of an elected official or abolishes a local elective office must be directly approved by the voters in a mandatory referendum before it goes into effect.[5] No referendum was ever held on Local Law No. 9-2014.[6] 

The court agreed with the opponents of the law. By implementing term limits, the local law at issue diminished the power of an elected official (the Clarkstown Town Supervisor and the members of the Clarkstown Town Board). Not only did it curtail the power of elected officials in the Town of Clarkstown, it also infringed upon the voting rights of the voters of Clarkstown.[7] Because the law was never put to the voters in a mandatory referendum, the court ruled, it is not in effect and has no effect.[8] The simple “passage of time,” the Court of Appeals held, does not cause this local law to go into effect without having been approved by the voters in a mandatory referendum.[9] 

In the Town of Clarkstown, the immediate effect of this decision was to allow George Hoehmann, the incumbent Town of Clarkstown Supervisor who was in his eighth year as Supervisor, to run for another term in that position.[10] More importantly, this decision could have major implications—legal and political—for the many other local governments throughout New York State that have also adopted term limits for their elected officials. If these municipalities—like the Town of Clarkstown—did not put their term limits to the voters in a referendum, they could be subject to challenge and invalidation by the courts.

[1] Hoehmann v. Town of Clarkstown, 40 N.Y.3d 1 (2023).

[2] Id. at 5.

[3] Hoehmann v. Town of Clarkstown, 216 A.D.3d 865 (2d Dep’t 2023).

[4] Hoehmann, 40 N.Y.3d 1 at 5.

[5] Municipal Home Rule Law Sec. 23(1); Municipal Home Rule Law Sec. 23(2)(f).

[6] Hoehmann, 40 N.Y.3d 1 at 6.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Steve Lieberman, Clarkstown term limits law voided by New York high court, letting Hoehmann run again, Rockland/Westchester J. News, May 19, 2023, https://www.lohud.com/story/news/local/rockland/2023/05/19/clarkstown-term-limits-law-voided-supervisor-hoehmann-on-ballot/70236464007/.

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