Challenging the constitutionality of pay raises

When an unelected committee approved pay raises for the state’s legislators, GJC filed a lawsuit alleging the raises were unconstitutional. A Supreme Court justice agreed with GJC, striking down two scheduled pay raises as well as a ban on state lawmakers’ ability to earn outside income as beyond the committee’s authority.

The pay raises arose from a law passed in 2018 creating a committee to review legislative and executive compensation. It needed to issue a report containing its recommendations by December that year, at which point its recommendations would become law, superseding any conflicting provisions in existing statutes, unless the Legislature passed a bill modifying or abrogating those recommendations.

While the lower court’s ruling on the income cap and future raises was positive, the ruling failed to find the committee scheme unconstitutional. The state constitution is crystal clear: lawmakers’ salaries must be passed by the legislature, not through a report by handpicked committee members. And existing laws setting compensation amounts can only be changed by the Legislature in bills passed by majorities in both houses and signed by the Governor, not an unelected committee. 

The court’s failure to adequately address this issue is why we appealed the ruling on behalf of our plaintiffs to the state’s highest court—and on behalf of taxpayers across New York who deserve elected officials making important policy decisions, not leaving them to committees and courts to decide. 

The New York Court of Appeals recently heard arguments on GJC’s challenge to the 2018 law. A copy of the plaintiffs’ opening brief can be found here, the state’s response here, the plaintiffs’ reply here, and the Speaker of the Assembly’s amicus curiae brief here. The Court of Appeals oral argument can be viewed here.