What the law says about expelling Simcha Felder

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Shortly after Simcha Felder won election to the state senate on the Democratic and Conservative Party lines, Felder announced that he would caucus with the Republicans in Albany. Felder's decision infuriated Democrats, who won a numerical majority in the upper chamber, and prompted the chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, Frank Seddio, to say he hopes to expel Felder from the party.

Here's what the New York State law says about expelling an official from a political party.

"A member or officer of a party committee may be removed by such committee for disloyalty to the party or corruption in office after notice is given and a hearing upon written charges has been had. The hearing shall be held by the committee, or a subcommittee thereof appointed for that purpose, which subcommittee shall report its findings to the full committee."

A great resource on this topic is Jerry Goldfeder's book on modern election law, with a section called "Bucking the Party" (which is where I got these quotes).

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In Goldfeder's book, he reviews the case law surrounding efforts to expel lawmakers and voters from the parties with which they are registered. (Voters can be expelled too, if they're found to be "not in sympathy with the principles of such party.")

But expulsion is tricky, since the Democratic Party is not a single-issue party, and includes a wide array of members in good standing with vastly different ideologies—Dov Hikind and Al Sharpton, for example.

Hikind, who is Felder's former boss and a key political ally, said it's "hypocrisy" to threaten Felder with expulsion, since there were plenty of Democrats who (overtly and covertly) backed Republicans for mayor, governor and president.

Substantively, those are very different things. Hikind, for example, campaigned against Obama and got more votes on the Republican Party line than on the Democratic Party line in 2004, but has never supported a Republican for leader in the Assembly.

Case law appears to support the Brooklyn Democrats' contention that cross-party caucusing would be an act of "disloyalty" that could trigger an expulsion proceeding.

Here's the conclusion Goldfeder comes up to: "[I]f one threatens to join another party and vote with its caucus in the Legislature, then even those intended acts may be ground for expulsion."

If Felder were to be expelled from the party, he would need a Wilson-Pakula waiver to run on the party's line.