Justice Denies: Feds won't stop Bloomie's term limits coup

Yesterday afternoon, the Justice Department shot down one of the last legal challenges to Mayor Mike Bloomberg's controversial term limits extension.

In a fifty-page appeal, lawmakers and civil rights groups had asked the federal government last month to consider the term limits extension a violation of of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

They argued that extending the time an incumbent can be in office (in this case, the City Council and the mayor) has the effect of disenfranchising minority candidates who might otherwise run for public office.

The Justice Department thought otherwise. The government's reply to the petitioners -- which include former Giuliani deputy mayor Randy Mastro, veteran civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel, Congressmembers Ed Towns and Nydia Velazquez, and the Asian American Legal Defense Fund -- was a terse and legalistic one: "The Attorney General does not interpose any objection to the specified changes [to the city's charter]." No explanation was provided.

The final hope for strange bedfellows Mastro and Siegel is the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, where they will go later this month to argue that extension of term limits violates voters' First Amendment rights. This argument was already shot down by a judge in Brooklyn last month. The two lawyers say that term limits can't be overturned without a public referendum, and that the vote represented a conflict of interest on the part of the City Council because they were essentially making decisions about their own careers. The public's First Amendment rights are being violated, this argument goes, because their speech -- expressed in two votes approving term limits -- is being ignored. 

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