The Next Eight Supreme Court Justices up for Reelection from Manhattan will Probably Have to Run in Brooklyn or the Bronx

With the Federal Appellate Court recent ruling in favor of Judge Gleeson decision to do away with Judicial Conventions system of picking Supreme Court Judges, most of the news coverage has been focused on how these judges will be elected.  The courts have said this year Judicial Conventions will be the last one and ordered direct elections in the future if Albany fails to come up with a constitutional substitute way to elected judges.  The fear among party leaders is that challenges to other constitution issues that have long been ignored, will be trigged by Gleeson decision.  Election law legal experts believe that these additions constitutional questions will also have a dramatic impact on how Judges are elected. 

The New York State Constitution requires 50,000 residents for each Supreme Court Judge assigned to a county.  If you calculate that formula with today’s population figures, Manhattan is over represented by eight Supreme Court Judges and both Brooklyn/Staten Island and the Bronx are underrepresented.  This violation of the state constitution will come up if the legislature tries to reduce the size of the districts that Supreme Court judges are elected by.  A plan proposed by a previous failed lawsuit against the constitutionality of the judicial conventions proposed electing Supreme Court judges by State Senate Districts.  That plan also proposed electing Civil Court judges by Assembly district. 

In response to Judge Gleeson ruling reformers in Albany are pushing for smaller district to cut down on campaign costs and to help elect a more diverse judiciary.  If their plan is accepted they will have to assign some of the Manhattan Judges to the Bronx or Brooklyn districts.  Proposals to save the extra Manhattan judges with a constitutional amendment would be difficult and time consuming.  It hard to see how voters outside of Manhattan would vote to give that borough more judges and in any event it would take two consecutive sessions of the state legislature to ready the amendment to go before the voters.

Another problem the legislatures in Albany must face is the unequal populations of the Municipal Court District which have not been redistricted since 1910.  There does not seem to be an explanation why Manhattan has more Municipal Court District to elect Civil Court Judges than any county and why that borough was assigned extra Supreme Court Judges in violation of the New York State Constitution.  

Many legal experts expect the violation of the one man one vote rule of electing Civil Court Judges by unequal in population municipal and county court district to also be challenge in federal court.  This one man one vote violation was part of the previous challenge of the way New York State Judges are elected, but went nowhere when Judge John E. Sprizzo ruled in the first half of the case that Judicial Conventions were not unconstitutional over fifteen years ago.  In addition some legal expert’s feel that the extra judges in Manhattan is in violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act; since the protected counties of Brooklyn and the Bronx are being shortchanges judicial positions and elections.

Judges up for reelection thought until this year they would be reappointed by a judicial convention system which according to Judge Gleenson is controlled by Manhattan County Leader Danny Farrell.  These sitting judges now face an uncertain future which may include seeking the support of elected officials and district leaders who they do not know and the real possibility of a judicial primary in Brooklyn or the Bronx.

The Manhattan Judges affected are: Judge Shelia Abdus-Salaam, Judge Fern Fisher, Judge Marcy Kahn, Judge Charles Ramos and Judge Martin Schoenfeld.  And the following three judicial slots: Judge Jacqueline Silbermann, Judge Louis York and Judge Stephen P. Crane.  These three judges can apply to remain on the bench for up to 6 years, but because they are reaching the age of 70 there judicial slots must go to someone else.

While everyone is speculation about what Albany will do or not do to replace the unconstitutional of Judicial conventions they could do what do what they most always do, nothing.  Remember New York State is the only state in the nation not in compliance with the Help American Vote Act (HAVA).   This year Albany again showed us what N.Y.U.’s Brennan Center called it the most dysfunctional legislature in the nation, when they delayed issuing rules and regulations for local elections board to purchase new mandated voting machines until it was too late to meet the HAVA Law’s timetable.  In order to avoid a Justice Department lawsuit the New York City Board of Elections agreed to spend two million dollars this year for handicapped voting machines that according to the Daily News was only used by 29 disabled voters and will never be used again.

There is no doubt that the Republican and Democratic Party leaders consider picking Supreme Court Judges “there right” and control the legislative process Albany when it comes to election law and how judges are elected.  Nobody doubts the party leaders will try to go back to the candy store (Judicial Conventions) at least one more time.  There is already talk of the state legislature delaying action on a constitutional judicial convention replacement and going back to the federal judges in the spring seeking more time by allowing Judicial Conventions to be extended for the 2007 election cycle.  It will take time for Albany to understand that Judge Gleeson already has their number.