New York State

New York’s top judge to step down

Janet DiFiore, a Cuomo appointee, said she would resign at the end of August.

Janet DiFiore with Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo at her swearing in ceremony in 2016.

Janet DiFiore with Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo at her swearing in ceremony in 2016. Office of Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo

New York will soon have a new top judge. Janet DiFiore, the chief judge of the state Court of Appeals, told The New York Times that she plans to step down at the end of August, allowing Gov. Kathy Hochul to pick a replacement. 

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo nominated DiFiore to the Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, in 2015. A former Republican and one-time Westchester district attorney, she was considered a close ally to Cuomo. 

In a letter to colleagues officially announcing her resignation, DiFiore called her time as chief judge “a high honor and the greatest privilege in my professional life.” She went on to say that she had accomplished what she had hoped during her seven years on the court and that that time had come for her to “move on to the next chapter.” DiFiore’s final day will be August 31.

In addition to overseeing the seven-member court which has the final say on judicial matters in New York, the chief judge also heads the entire disjointed and often confusing court system in the state. DiFiore had pitched widespread court reform to simplify the convoluted system, but she will leave her role without having seen her proposals seriously considered or enacted. 

Most recently, DiFiore led the Court of Appeals in its decision that congressional and state Senate lines drawn by the Democratic Legislature were unconstitutional, leading to their redrawing and split primary elections. The decision by DiFiore and three of her fellow jurists garnered criticism from Democrats as an overtly political move. 

Under DiFiore’s leadership, the Court of Appeals has also received criticism from those on the left that the top court has shifted to the right in its decisions. Unlike in years past, a solid majority bloc of Cuomo appointees had formed that voted in lockstep the majority of the time, often offering more moderate jurisprudence in the cases it heard, particularly on matters of criminal justice.

After Cuomo stepped down amid a cascade of sexual harassment scandals, the Assembly chose the law firm Davis Polk to lead its investigation into the former governor. The firm had ties to DiFiore, whose husband worked there for 30 years, leading many to question the investigation’s integrity

With DiFiore’s upcoming departure, Gov. Kathy Hochul will pick a nominee that will require state Senate confirmation to begin their term. Citing recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions like overturning New York City’s longtime concealed carry law, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie called on the governor to nominate a progressive judge to lead the state's top court. Hochul so far has one appointee to the Court of the Appeals, Shirley Troutman, who began her 14-year term in January.