NYCLU issues opinion on executive order

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), an affiliate of the the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU),  wrote a letter last week regarding an executive order issued by Mayor Ann Thane last August. The letter, dated September 22, 2014, was sent to Thane, Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis, and members of the Amsterdam Common Council. Written on behalf of the NYCLU by attorney Lisa J. Laplace, the letter said that the organization believes that the mayor’s executive order, which requires city employees to obtain approval from the mayor before talking to common council members about policy, employee performance, or department operations, is not “constitutionally permissible.”

An excerpt from the letter reads:

Specifically, our concerns rest on the notification and pre-clearance requirements that may have a broad inhibiting effect on all City employees – chilling potential speech before it happens, even for those who might ultimately receive permission to speak. Further, the prior approval mechanism allows you to control the timing of the intended speech, raising the potential to destroy the immediate relevance of the comment. For these reasons, the Order runs afoul of the general presumption against prior restraints on speech.

The letter requests that the executive order be revoked, but does not specify if the NYCLU will take any action against the city other than saying the attorney will call “next week to see how you intend to respond to this request.”

Thane said on Monday that she is waiting for the corporation counsel to review the letter before responding to it, however she defended the order saying the intent was to “promote more open discussion between myself, employees and the council and to limit time taken away from daily operational duties.”

DeCusatis said on Monday that he is still in the process of reviewing the letter but that he does not not believe the order violates anyone’s constitutional rights. He pointed out that the two previous cases cited in the letter as examples of cases the NYCLU has won (Harman v. City of New York and Latino Officers Association v. Safir),  only dealt with orders that limited employee’s interactions with the media.

According to NYCLU’s website, the New York City based organization was founded in 1951 and deals with a variety of social justice issues such as due process and justice, freedom of speech and religion, immigrant’s rights, LGBT rights, liberty and security, racial justice, reproductive rights, rights of people with disabilities, voting rights, youth and student rights, and women’s equality.

Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.