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The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government

Saturday, February 17, 2018
NYS ConCon 2017

The Constitution of 1894: Confronting a “New” New York

The mandatory call for a convention in 1886 was approved; but partisan disputes between the governor and the legislature as to how delegates should be selected delayed its convening for eight years.

The Constitution proposed by the 1894 convention, as amended, remains the current Constitution of the state.

The 1894 convention:

  • Incorporated changes in the judicial article recommend by the judiciary commission of 1890;
  • Created a “forever wild” state forest preserve, which cannot be developed or altered;
  • Founded the University of the State of New York, which is the umbrella organization having control over all public and private education throughout the state;
  • Set up a merit-based civil service system;
  • Established some home rule provisions for municipalities;
  • Adopted provisions regulating registration, authorizing voting machines, and setting up bipartisan election boards in an attempt to reduce electoral fraud;
  • Established the present method of selecting delegates to a constitutional convention (three delegates per Senate district and fifteen at large delegates), thus preventing another eight-year delay between the approval and commencement of a convention;
  • Added a provision forbidding any aid, direct or indirect, to institutions of learning under the direction of a religious denomination (often referred to as the Blaine Amendment);
  • Guaranteed a right of action to recover in wrongful death casees and prevented the legislature from capping monetary damages on such actions.
In addition to a new Constitution, the convention proposed (and voters approved) a separate legislative apportionment. The convention apportioned the legislature in such a way as to ensure representation of all counties and to prevent the counties of New York City from ever dominating the legislature. Significant portions of the apportionment scheme remain in the Constitution despite being found to violate the “one-person, one-vote” requirements of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

A women’s suffrage amendment was reported to the floor of the convention. After a long and thoughtful debate, it was rejected.

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