BUFFALO — A judge in the Western District of New York has denied three different parties from getting involved in a county clerk’s lawsuit against New York state over a new law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.
Three parties — a coalition of immigrant rights groups, an Erie County resident and the state Conservative Party — filed motions to intervene and/or submit amicus, or “friend of the court,” briefs in Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns’ lawsuit challenging the Green Light law.
U.S. District Judge Elizaeth Wolford has accepted a number of amicus briefs to date, including from the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Immigration Reform Law Institute and a joint brief from Connecticut, along with seven other states and Washington, D.C.
However, in an order Wednesday, she denied all three new requests.
The Rural and Migrant Ministry, New York Immigration Coalition and Hispanic Federation filed a joint motion to intervene in the case. Wolford declined their request, saying their interests in favor of Green Light were already adequately represented by the defendants in the case — Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Letitia James and Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Michael Schroeder. Wolford also said allowing them to intervene “could open the floodgates to other requests for permissive intervention by similarly interested parties.”
Erie County resident Daniel Warren requested to both intervene in the case and submit a brief in support of New York state, citing various tax burdens as his concern. Both Kearns and New York state opposed Warren’s requests. Wolford agreed, calling his tax concerns collateral issues that would not be productive to intervention or resolving the suit.
Wolford again added that it would set a precedent that would allow, theoretically, every taxpayer argue they could intervene in various cases.
“The Court will not tread onto that slippery slope,” she wrote.
Lastly, the New York State Conservative Party requested to submit an amicus brief two weeks after the court’s Sept. 6 deadline, with no explanation for the tardiness. However, Wolford said she also denied the party’s request because its arguments were redundant of Kearns’.
Kearns’ lawsuit is being watched closely, especially since a federal judge in the Northern District of New York ordered a stay on a similar lawsuit from Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola pending actions in Kearns’ suit. Merola’s lawsuit was filed in July, two weeks after the Kearns suit.
“Defendants argue that a stay pending the Western District’s resolution of a motion to dismiss and a motion for a preliminary injunction would ‘allow the parties and, ultimately, the court to take into account the decision of’ the Western District,” U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe wrote in his decision last week. “...for some of the reasons identified by defendants, a stay is appropriate.”
Government officials estimate 265,000 immigrants will be seeking driver’s licenses within the first few years of Green Light.
Under the new law, local departments of motor vehicles and county clerk offices are prohibited from sharing private information about individuals applying for licenses with immigration enforcement agencies. Both county clerks’ lawsuits argued that under federal law, it is a felony to withhold information about undocumented immigrants from immigration enforcement agencies.
Massarah Mikati covers the New York State Legislature and immigration for Johnson Newspaper Corp. Email her at email@example.com, or find her on Twitter @massarahmikati.