Next week, New York’s highest court will hear oral arguments involving one of the state’s smallest communities, Fishers Island.
The case centers on residency requirements for the office of town justice on the island, which has only about 300 full-time residents. The state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, will hear arguments beginning at approximately 2:20 p.m. on Tuesday.
In 2009, Daniel C. Ross, a Mattituck attorney and former Southold Town Board member challenged an 1860 statute that created an additional town justice seat on Fishers Island and mandated that the occupant reside there, about 11 miles off the coast. The statute, amended in 1977, also provides that the Fishers Island justice serves as a member of the Southold Town Board.
Ross, a Democrat, claimed that the provision violated the concept of “one man, one vote” by creating a special election district “within an otherwise at-large town (board) election system.”
So far, lower courts have disagreed. In 2009, the state Appellate Division – New York’s second-highest judicial venue – ruled that the residency requirement served a legitimate interest. Given the location of community, the five-judge panel said it was appropriate that the town board “have at least one member who has first-hand knowledge of the unique circumstances and problems faced by Fishers Island residents.”