Erie Clerk Sues To Halt State ‘Green Light’ Law


Erie Clerk Sues To Halt

State ‘Green Light’ Law

Otsego County Clerk Kathy Sinnott Gardner points to the screen of a “customer facing device” that she fears will allow ineligible people to be registered to vote. (Jim Kevlin/

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

Mickey Kearns

COOPERSTOWN – Another option for county clerks to challenge the state’s “Green Light” law opened up this week, as Erie County Clerk Michael “Mickey” Kearns went to federal court to block enforcement until its constitutionality can be determined.

The “Green Light” law, due to go into effect Dec. 14, would require county clerks to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented residents/illegal aliens, and to rebuff any efforts by ICE (U.S. Immigrations & Customs Enforcement) to access their records.

Otsego County Clerk Kathy Sinnott Gardner and many of her colleagues learned of the lawsuit in Syracuse Monday, July 8, at a state Association of County Clerks’ strategy session on how to go forward.

Rensselaer County is also ready to file a lawsuit, said Saratoga County Clerk Craig Hayner, who also attended.  He was the first county clerk to write a letter to President Trump, asking that the U.S. Justice Department intervene to clarify the law on the clerks’ behalf.  Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo also wants to file a suit.

Kearns told the Buffalo News, his local paper, that county clerks who operate DMV offices – as does Sinnot Gardner – have a “very strong argument” that the law exposes them to federal criminal liability.

“I will not be intimidated by the governor to break federal law,” he said, adding at another point, “I willing to take this all the way to the Supreme Court.”

Sinnott Gardner said she was unsure whether Otsego County would play any role in the suit, either as a “friend of the court” or more fully, but will explore the decision with Otsego County Board of Representatives, which June 5 pass a resolution, 7-3-3,  opposing the measure. Only one Democrat, Andrew Stammell, D-Town of Oneonta, voted “aye.”

Interviewed Tuesday, July 9, Hayner said, “I’m definitely interested in participating. I’m recommending to our county, our legislative body, that that happens.”

He isn’t sure whether the best approach is to participate in Erie’s suit, or perhaps file a separate one.

In his letter to the President, Hayner pointed out that clerks, on taking office, swear to uphold both the state and U.S. Constitutions, and that the “Green Light” appears in conflict with federal law.

As of last week, 35 county clerks, including Sinnott Gardner, had sent similar letters to Trump or the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  Since, another has signed on.

Only one Democrat, Oneida County Clerk Sandy DePerno of Utica, had done so.  Kearns is also a Democrat.

Emails to John Horstman, a White House communications adviser for a region that includes Otsego County, asking whether the President is willing to intervene on the county clerks’ behalf, had not been answered by press time.

Sinnott Gardner has also raised concerns about a computerized “customer-facing display” the state Department of Motor Vehicles installed at her Oneonta and Cooperstown license bureaus in the past few months.

The CFD guides people through the application, at one point requiring them to check a box – yes or no – as to whether they are registered to vote.  If no, she said, their information is sent directly to the county Board of Elections.

So far, said Democratic Elections Commissioner Michael Henrici, the elections board is doing nothing until advised by the state Department of Motor Vehicles.  “We haven’t received any direction yet,” he said.

The state Legislature had rejected a similar law in 2007, but with the Democrats in control of the state Senate as well as the Assembly and Governor’s Office, it was passed in the recently completed session

Even though a Siena Poll found 61 percent of New Yorkers opposed it, the governor signed the bill June 18, saying it would improve safety on New York State roads.

“Are our roads safer?” asked Sinnott Gardner.  “You really think they” – all the prospective new drivers, many financially challenged – “are going to run out and get car insurance?  You have citizens who don’t have car insurance.”

She continued, “Federal law says you aren’t supposed to be here illegally.  So how can I turn about and give you a driver’s license?  The federal government is going to have to answer that question for us.”


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