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Late in November, on day one of his new job at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, Jeremy C. Creelan took charge of a lawsuit that could mean the difference between life and death for those political organizations symbolized by something other than elephants and donkeys. “I don’t like to just sit around,” said Creelan, 33, an associate counsel at the Brennan Center and a former litigation associate at New York-based Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. “I definitely like to get results.” Just last week, with only a day to spare, he got results. In the cause of his client, the New York Green Party, Creelan succeeded in the first step of a federal suit challenging the constitutionality of � 5-302.1 of the State Election Law — a provision he said limits the organizational efforts of parties not so well endowed as the Democrats and Republicans. On Dec. 12, Eastern District of New York Judge John Gleeson ruled for Creelan in granting a temporary injunction against implementation of � 5-302.1. This came before a canvassing meeting of the New York State Board of Elections in Albany, N.Y., on Dec. 13, which would have automatically triggered � 5-302.1 — to the disadvantage of not only the Green Party, but the Liberal and Right-to-Life parties, too. All three organizations failed to attract 50,000 votes to their respective gubernatorial candidates in the Nov. 5 election, thereby losing automatic ballot position and state recognition as “major” parties. In accordance with � 5-302.1, local election boards would have had to expunge the names and addresses of Green, Liberal and Right-to-Life voters. In place of names, such partisans would be officially known as “Blank.” No new Greens, Liberals or Right-to-Lifers would be permitted to register under those labels. “Consequently, the Green Party will no longer be able to identify its voters from voter lists provided by the local boards of elections — the key information party officials use to organize members and to maintain the party’s voice,” Creelan wrote in court papers accompanying his suit. “By preventing past and future voters from enrolling in the Green Party, the present law operates to ensure that once a party loses state recognition, it will be severely hampered in trying to regain that recognition.” A graduate of Yale Law School who clerked for Southern District Judge Denise Cote, Creelan does not quarrel with the 50,000-vote threshold itself. In his suit, Green Party of New York State v. New York State Board of Elections, he simply asks that Greens be permitted to continue registering as such — despite their party’s loss of ballot position. For New York state to do otherwise, he argues, would violate the Free Speech and Equal Protection clauses of the First and 14th Amendments. Despite Creelan’s own partisan loyalties — he was Andrew Cuomo’s policy director during the recent Democratic gubernatorial primary campaign — he is passionate about the rights of rival political movements to flourish. “The legislation [underpinning � 5-302.1] is designed to kick the minor parties when they’re down,” Creelan said in an interview. “It is my hope that the major parties recognize, as all New Yorkers should, the value of political and party participation.” Apparently, the Grand Old Party agrees. Democrats, on the other hand, are undecided. Todd Alhart, spokesman for the New York Republican State Committee, said of Creelan’s suit, “We’re aware of it; we’re monitoring it, but we’re not intervening.” Frank Hoare, counsel to Assemblyman Herman “Denny” Farrell Jr., chair of the New York State Democratic Committee, said, “We’ll make a decision shortly on what role we will take in this particular action. I think right now that Denny believes there’s a rational basis for the 50,000-vote requirement and that current statutes should be followed.” A neutral authority on election law seems to take issue with Creelan’s position. “The U.S. Supreme Court has taken a relatively two-party system line, so long as it’s made reasonably possible for minor parties to become so-called major parties, which New York does by maintaining the 50,000-vote rule,” said Richard Briffault, the Joseph P. Chamberlain professor of legislation and vice dean of Columbia Law School. “This threshold is not so high as to be unrealistic. New York has a long history of parties crossing the 50,000-vote line.” As for the state’s role in maintaining partisan registration records, Briffault added, “They’re saying [the Greens] that if the state is doing this work for some parties they should do it for all parties. But the Green Party had ballot position and now they don’t. The state doesn’t maintain records of members of the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club does.” Nevertheless, Creelan is confident. He said election law provisions “virtually identical” to the New York section he is challenging have been struck down in Colorado, New Jersey and Oklahoma. “We have a strong case,” he said, “and a good chance of prevailing.” For the future, Creelan has his eye on litigation to end what he called the three-men-in-a-room brand of Albany political procedure, whereby “the governor and the speaker and the majority leader essentially get together and decide what legislation will be passed with the Legislature just putting its rubber stamp on it.” Without a “truly deliberative process,” he said, “you can’t make much progress on issues like environment, education, labor rights and civil rights.” On a personal note, Creelan has not made salary progress by leaving big-firm private practice for public service. “Tell me about it,” he remarked dryly, while happily noting, however, that his Brennan Center paycheck surpasses that of his time with the Cuomo campaign.

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