Oral arguments on Green Light Law start Wednesday

Law takes effect December 14; Erie County trying to put a halt to it

Mike Baggerman
October 22, 2019 - 9:00 pm

Robert H. Jackson Federal Courthouse in Buffalo. June 11, 2018 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) - Wednesday marks the first day that New York's controversial Green Light Law will be challenged in a federal courtroom.

The law would allow undocumented immigrants the ability to receive a driver's license in New York State. Advocates of the law argue that people in the country illegally are already driving and that giving them a license will allow them to receive the proper training and insurance that's needed to make the roads safer. Opponents of the law argue that illegal citizens do not have the right to receive a license that would then allow them other documents such as an enhanced licensed.

County clerks in the area have been opposed to the matter. Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns is arguably the most outspoken opponent of the law because he said it put himself and other clerks at risk of prosecution from the federal government for helping a person in the country illegally.

"I'm happy we'll finally get our day in court," Kearns said.

The law was passed by the legislature in the final days of the 2019 session. Kearns is looking for Judge Elizabeth A Wolford to rule in favor of a preliminary injunction that would halt New York's implementation of the law that is scheduled to go into effect on December 14.

Oral arguments begin on Wednesday.

"The state will be asking for a dismissal of the lawsuit," Kearns said. "We are going to be arguing for the constitutionality of the law. This law puts all the clerks, not only me, in conflict. There have been other lawsuits that have been filed but this has been the lead case. This is going to be very important not just for me, but the other clerks in the State of New York."

Kearns believes a win on a preliminary injunction would allow clerks a sigh of relief while the federal government intervenes on other state-related issues.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz declined comment on the Green Light Law's court battle and referred us to the county attorney's office. Poloncarz reserved opining about the Green Light Law for several weeks but said in July that there are significant legal issues with the law and doesn't support it.

"My office has put a lot of work on this file," County Attorney Michael Siragusa said. "Ken Kirby in my office will be the lead arguer (Wednesday) along with Tom Navarro. My involvement has been reviewing all the papers that have been drafted, making suggestions, and making sure deadlines are met and the right arguments are being set forth. We're ready for (Wednesday)."

Kirby said that Judge Wolford can interrupt at any point during oral arguments to ask questions about the case.

"The judge has not indicated a time limit for oral arguments, so I can't say how long oral arguments will take," Kirby said. "In a case like this, it's relatively unlikely that a decision will be instantly made because the judge may very well wish to write on the issue. The judge has indicated she is very intent on attempting to have a decision before the effective date of the statute which is December 14."

Kirby said the county will argue that provisions of the green light law infringe on the federal government's authority on immigration. Because of that, they believe it is legally unconstitutional.

Arguments begin at 10 a.m.


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