Today, LDF sent a letter to New York Governor Kathy Hochul regarding her upcoming appointment for a new Chief Judge for New York State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. LDF encourages Governor Hochul to select a candidate whose background, experience, and record demonstrate that they will enrich the Court’s diversity, strengthen its decision-making, advance its commitment to equal justice under law, inspire public confidence in the judiciary, and defend New York’s recent progress toward becoming an equal, inclusive democracy. Judges with diverse backgrounds and perspectives can counteract entrenched biases, foster public trust, and improve judicial decision-making by enriching the deliberative process with a more complete spectrum of viewpoints and voices.
The stakes of judicial decision-making are particularly high in state courts. These courts hear 95% of all cases in the U.S. legal system and issue rulings with profound importance, including on voting rights and redistricting, abortion rights, criminal justice, gun safety measures, and more. Yet, across the country, the highest courts in most states fail to reflect the diversity of the people whose rights they are called upon to adjudicate.
The current Court’s lack of professional diversity is of particular concern. Half of the six sitting judges, like the former Chief Judge DiFiore who stepped down this year – are former prosecutors. None of them are former public defenders. This imbalance deprives the Court’s deliberations of a full spectrum of experiences, viewpoints, and perspectives and may negatively impact public perceptions of its legitimacy. For example, without the perspective of a single former public defender, the Court is deprived of experience that, in the words of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, can help judges understand “that every person who is accused of criminal conduct by the government, regardless of wealth and despite the nature of the accusation, is entitled to the assistance of counsel.” LDF urges Governor Hochul to diversify and strengthen New York’s judiciary by appointing a qualified candidate with experience in public defense, civil rights, or legal aid work.
New York’s Commission on Judicial Nomination is currently reviewing applications for this judicial opening. The Commission has until Friday, November 25, to send a list of seven nominees to Governor Hochul for her consideration. From there, Governor Hochul has between 15 and 30 days to make her appointment. The New York State Senate will then have 30 days to confirm or reject the Governor’s appointment.
Read the full letter here.
Founded in 1940, the Legal Defense Fund (LDF) is the nation’s first civil rights law organization. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the Legal Defense Fund or LDF. Please note that LDF has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights.