Senate leader wants to revisit selection process for state’s top court

By Published On: January 13th, 2023Categories: Capitol Notes

The route judges take to sit on New York’s top court could be changing in the future.

Speaking on Friday’s episode of The Capitol Pressroom, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said it is “absolutely” time to revisit how a short list of judicial candidates is chosen to serve on the state Court of Appeals. The current process, written into the state constitution, tasks a commission with screening applicants for vacancies that arise on the state’s top court and offering a list of candidates for the governor to choose from.

“I would love to revisit it,” said the Westchester County Democrat.

The process has come under intense scrutiny in recent months, following Gov. Kathy Hochul’s selection of Judge Hector LaSalle to fill the chief judge vacancy on the court, which has prompted an intense backlash from labor organizations, pro-choice advocates, progressive criminal justice groups, and liberal state lawmakers. LaSalle was one of seven names proposed in the fall of last year by the state Commission on Judicial Nomination.

Since 2021 there have been four vacancies on the court and the commission has offered four different short lists, with more than 20 different names, of which some are repeated and others are not.

“I can’t even understand why, within the course of 12 months, you know, you have to get different lists of different people and you can’t refer back to a list that you got two months earlier,” Stewart-Cousins said. “It makes no sense”

“I think people would be served better with a different type of process and something that’s just more nimble than what we have now,” she added.

Changing the process would require a constitutional amendment and while that doesn’t require the governor’s involvement, the senate leader didn’t appear to embrace the idea of proceeding solely with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and their colleagues in the state legislature.

“I’ve always found benefit in, you know, trying to engage my partners when we’re going to do something different and difficult,” she said, when asked about amending the state constitution without input from the governor.

The full interview is available below.