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Gangemi v. Rosengard

Decided: February 26, 1965.

THOMAS GANGEMI AND MICHAEL R. PERRELLA, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
BERNARD ROSENGARD, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS CITY CLERK OF THE CITY OF JERSEY CITY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



For reversal -- Chief Justice Weintraub and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall and Haneman. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Weintraub, C.J. Francis, J., joins in this opinion. Proctor, Hall and Haneman, JJ., join only in Part III hereof for the reason given in their separate opinion. Proctor, Hall and Haneman, JJ. (concurring). Jacobs, J., concurs in result.

Weintraub

This case involves the validity of Chapter 84, L. 1960 (N.J.S.A. 40:69A-167.1), which supplements the Optional Municipal Charter Law, popularly called the Faulkner Act, and provides:

"In any city of the first class, elected officers, including members of a charter commission, shall, for at least 2 years before election, be registered voters and residents of the municipality; and ward officers shall also be residents of the respective wards for which elected for a period of 8 months before election."

Plaintiff Gangemi seeks to run in May 1965 for the office of Mayor in Jersey City, a city of the first class which heretofore adopted one of the plans under the Faulkner Act, N.J.S.A. 40:69A-1 et seq. He has resided in Jersey City for some 50 years and hence is not troubled by so much of Chapter 84 as requires elected officers to be "residents" of the municipality for at least two years. His problem stems from the further demand that elected officers shall be "registered voters" for at least two years. Gangemi became a naturalized citizen on September 2, 1964 and registered for voting on the following day. Although registered, he cannot meet the requirement

that registration shall have endured for the two-year period.*fn1

This case turns on the constitutionality of that requirement.

Plaintiffs contend Chapter 84 violates Art. IV, ยง VII, para. 9 of our State Constitution which prohibits local or special laws regulating the internal affairs of municipalities and requires the passage of general laws in such matters. The law is claimed to be local and special and not general because it applies (1) only to a city, and then (2) only to a city of the first class, and even then (3) only if such a city has adopted a plan of government under the Faulkner Act. Plaintiffs deny any rational connection between the object of Chapter 84 and any one or the totality of the three attributes of municipal life just enumerated. In like terms, the statute is assailed as violative of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and of the equality provision inherent in Art. I, para. 1 of the State Constitution.

On motion, the trial court sustained the statute and gave judgment for defendant. The appeal was certified on motion before argument in the Appellate Division. R.R. 1:10-1A.

We asked the parties to argue the additional question whether a statute requiring a period of voter registration is beyond the legislative power. We had in mind whether that provision improperly restrains the right to vote assured by our State Constitution. Our request elicited still another issue we did not have in mind, i.e., whether Chapter 84 discriminates against naturalized citizens in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and the provision of our State Constitution which bars discrimination as to civil rights on account of ancestry or national origin. Art. I, para. 5. Plaintiffs refer to Schneider v. Rusk, 377 U.S. 163, 84 S. Ct. 1187, 12 L. Ed. 2 d 218 (1964), and the point made is that in its actual

operation Chapter 84 would delay eligibility for office on the part of one naturalized after attaining voting age, thus disadvantaging him vis-a-vis a citizen by birth. We need not reach this issue since other grounds suffice to sustain plaintiffs' attack.

I.

The right to vote did not share in the glorious history of other democratic values. At the time of the American Revolution it was not among the inalienable blessings of man. So, our Constitution of 1776 limited the right to vote for representatives in the council and assembly to inhabitants "worth fifty pounds" (Art. IV), and required that a member of the legislative council be a "freeholder * * * and worth at least one thousand pounds, proclamation money, of real and personal estate" within his county, and that a member of the assembly be worth half that much (Art. III).

Universal suffrage was a long way off. Our Constitution of 1844 assured a vote only to every "white male" (Art. II, para. 1). By an amendment in 1875 "white" was eliminated, in response of course to the Civil War and the Fifteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution. Women had to wait for the Nineteenth Amendment. Finally our State ...


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