The state Commission on Judicial Nomination may be on the chopping block. State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins indicated her plans to get rid of the Commission on Judicial Nomination on Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters at the state Capitol, Stewart-Cousins said lawmakers are considering a change to the process in which judges are chosen to serve on the Court of Appeals. “We’re looking at the efficacy – or lack thereof – of this commission. Having a group of people submit a limited number of people every time you’re looking to fill a vacancy is no longer something we would like,” Stewart-Cousins said.
The commission is an independent state agency, made up of 12 members, tasked with screening candidates to serve on the Court of Appeals, and it ultimately produces a shortlist of nominees for the governor to pick from. The majority leader said an amendment to the state constitution is being considered to allow voters to remove a key component of the selection process for nominees, and it would take until about 2025 to implement the amendment.
The majority leader’s comments come a few months after the bitter nomination fight between the state Senate and Gov. Kathy Hochul over her nomination of Hector LaSalle for chief judge of the state’s highest court. On Monday, Hochul announced her second chief judge nominee, Rowan Wilson.
State Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brad Hoylman-Sigal affirmed his support for improving the judicial nomination process, and the majority leader’s suggested amendment, in a text message to City & State. “The truth is the lengthy process probably discourages good applicants from coming forward. Under the current framework, the commission proceedings are essentially secret and we don’t know how they vote or why they vote for candidates, which can also limit the applicant pool,” Hoylman-Sigal said.
The senator added there are measures that can be implemented to build efficiency and transparency into the nomination process, including releasing the names of applicants, mandating expedited procedures, allowing the governor to draw multiple names off the same list and permitting the governor to seek additional names rather than having to restart the clock every time.
But Stewart-Cousins’ remarks about removing the commission from the process was not well received by all. Citizens Union, a good-government group, condemned the majority leader’s remarks and said the commission was essential to keeping the state’s judicial branch independent. “Eliminating the Commission on Judicial Nomination, which recommends candidates for the Court of Appeals to the governor, would further politicize the judiciary and erode the public’s faith in our court system,” said Betsy Gotbaum, executive director of the group.
Gotbaum added: “The commission is appointed by all three branches of government, and serves as an effective mechanism to ensure that the governor’s nominees are made on merit.”
Still, it will be a few years before the constitutional amendment – if enacted – goes into effect. The Legislature would need to pass the measure in two consecutive sessions, and voters would need to approve it on the ballot in a general election.
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