ALBANY -- The Fishers Island residency requirement for the office of town justice passes constitutional muster, New York's top court ruled Thursday.

The Court of Appeals, in a 7-0 decision, upheld an 1860 statute that created an additional town justice seat on Fishers Island and mandated that the occupant reside there. The statute, amended in 1977, also dictates that the Fishers Island justice serve as a member of the Southold Town Board.

The court said the statute does not violate the equal protection clause of the state Constitution.

The residency requirement came under scrutiny in 2009 when Daniel C. Ross, a Mattituck attorney and former Southold Town Board member, filed a lawsuit after he was blocked from the ballot because of the residency requirement.

He said the statute violated the concept of "one man, one vote" by creating a special election district "within an otherwise at-large town [board] election system."

But Judge Theodore Jones, writing for the appeals court, said a "rational basis exists to justify the [residency] requirement" and that there was a "legitimate interest in assuring an elected representative is familiar with the unique problems of a specific geographic area."

Ross was out of the country and unavailable for comment Thursday, his office said.

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