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Commission-Based Judicial Appointments

For over a century, the City Bar has advocated for changes in our state’s judicial selection system to ensure the high quality of our state judiciary. Unlike legislators or other public officials, judicial candidates have no platform on which to run and, because of the rules of judicial ethics, cannot address how they would decide issues that might come before them. This lack of an intelligent dialogue on issues leaves a befuddled electorate with little, if any, information to choose between the aspiring candidates. With scant information available on judicial candidates, voters usually select judges simply on party affiliation. That gives the party bosses ultimate control over the make up of much of our state judiciary. These political leaders, who are not accountable in any meaningful way to the public, have used the judiciary as an important source of patronage. While many Supreme Court Justices are truly fine jurists, the system is in no way designed to guarantee that, or to assure the voters that quality, rather than party loyalty, is the major selection criteria.

A commission-based appointment system would reduce the role of politics and lead to a more qualified judiciary. Under this approach, broad-based, diverse, and independent judicial qualifications commissions would recommend a limited number of candidates per vacancy to the appointing authority, and that person could only appoint from among those candidates. The candidates for appointment would be evaluated on intellectual capacity, integrity, independence, experience, temperament, fairness – in short the qualities New Yorkers expect and have a right to see in their judges. The limit on the number of candidates who can be released from the screening committee will ensure that only the most meritorious are released instead of all who are adequate and the City Bar opposes legislation that would weaken this limitation.

The City Bar offers clear guidelines for the composition of these screening committees: Elected officials from both parties, the Chief Judge and appropriate justices shall appoint 15-21 law schools, non-profit, civic and community organizations and bar associations to act as non-governmental appointing authorities for each committee. Each one of the chosen organizations shall in turn appoint one member of the screening commission; The appointing authorities shall give consideration to achieving a broad representation of the community and; A statewide committee should be established to function as a policy body and oversight mechanism for all of the commissions.

Commission on Judicial Nominations

A.309 (AM Lancman) – would direct the Commission on Judicial Nominations to forward to the governor all well qualified candidates for associate judge and/or chief judge.

  • Report opposing legislation, Reissued February 2011.