Press Releases

City Bar Says “Repeal the Cap and Do the Math” to Increase Number of Judges in New York State

“We Need a Modern, Flexible, Evidence-Based Method
of Assessing New York’s Judicial Needs”

According to a report released today from the New York City Bar Association, there is a “dire need” for the state legislature “to provide the People of the State of New York with a sufficient number of judges to do justice.”

Throughout its history, New York has struggled with an insufficient number of judicial seats, which has necessitated stopgap measures “that have only resulted in a complicated, overworked, and confusing court system that fails to provide justice to all,” the report says.

The problem, according to the report, is largely the constitutionally prescribed cap on the number of judges that can be elected to the State Supreme Court. The New York State Constitution calculates the number of Supreme Court seats based on a simple population ratio: one justice per 50,000 people, “leaving the Legislature powerless to authorize additional seats to meet the growing and particular needs of the courts in [judicial] districts,” the report says.

The report describes a ripple effect in which judges from other courts are designated to the Supreme Court on an acting basis. The report says, “this ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ approach depleted these other courts of judicial resources” and “runs afoul of both the original intent of the constitutional provision vesting Office of Court Administration (OCA) with this authority, as well as the constitutional provision granting citizens the right to choose, by election, those jurists who sit in the Supreme Court.” What’s more, the report says, “once so designated, it is rare, if ever, that an acting justice is returned to his or her original judicial office.”

“The situation has become even more critical in light of the impact of the COVID pandemic’s economic fallout on the courts,” the report says. “Cuts in judicial resources promise to tax an already over-burdened judiciary beset with backlogs preceding COVID, such as long waits for decisions on motions or trial dates when both parties are ready.”

“In this era of metrics,” the report says, “the people of New York State are entitled to a modern, flexible, evidence-based method of assessing the state’s judicial needs, as is the case in many other states and the federal judiciary.”

The report makes six recommendations for the proper and adequate administration of justice in New York State’s courts:

  1. A constitutional amendment to eliminate the cap
  2. Enabling-legislation to codify a mandatory regular systematic assessment of the courts’ specific needs
  3. Annual reporting to analyze the number of judges in each court and request changes when appropriate
  4. Establishing assessment methodology for assessing the judicial needs of all courts
  5. Adopting transparency measures that ensure publication of the assessment’s recommendations for the number of judges needed in each court and judicial district
  6. Pursuing interim measures such as legislative assessment of judicial needs in courts that are not subject to the constitutional cap

“Every indication is that the constitutional formula has proven woefully inadequate and outdated,” the report says. In addition to its recommendations, the report (1) provides an overview of the relevant courts in the state’s byzantine and often bewildering Unified Court System; (2) discusses the historical origins of the constitutional formula; (3) assesses the current burden on the Supreme Court and the factors that have led to this drastic expansion; (4) examines the measures that OCA has implemented to address the need for additional justices by reassigning judges; (5) analyzes the adverse impact of emergency measures on the other courts from which OCA has drawn acting justices; and (6) explores possible solutions by comparing practices in 49 state courts and the federal courts, and offering non-constitutional and constitutional-based proposals.

The report includes a 49-state survey of methods that other states use to assess their own judicial needs.

Read the full report here: