FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Anita Aboulafia (212) 267-6646, ext. 225, email@example.com
NYCLA FILES AMICUS BRIEF IN SUPPORT OF LOPEZ TORRES
AND CALLS FOR OVERHAUL OF SELECTION SYSTEM
New York, New York – May 18, 2006 – The New York County Lawyers’ Association (NYCLA) has filed an amicus brief in support of United States District Judge John Gleeson’s January 2006 finding that New York’s current judicial nominating convention system for Supreme Court Justices is unconstitutional. Simultaneously, NYCLA issued a report “Judicial Selection in New York State: A Roadmap to Reform,” calling for long-term reform of the judicial system.
Amicus Brief Filing
In its brief, NYCLA urges the Second Circuit to affirm the decision “because the present system is flawed, public confidence in the judiciary is a cornerstone in a free society, and the Legislature has thus far failed to act.” Relying upon a series of Supreme Court cases dealing with the so-called “White Primaries,” NYCLA argues that because the nomination phase of New York’s judicial selection system usually dictates the ultimate outcome of the election, the District Court properly focused on the flawed conventions. The brief further argues that the current system deprives voters and candidates of meaningful participation in the selection process.
On the question of remedy, NYCLA argues that the District Court was constrained by recent Supreme Court precedent to implement direct primaries on a temporary basis until the Legislature cures the constitutional defect. That course of action was the least intrusive option open to the court to avoid usurping legislative authority by engaging in its own rewriting of state law. At the same time, NYCLA advised the Court that while it believes that this interim judicial solution is necessary until the Legislature acts, NYCLA does not support direct primaries as “that judicial selection method poses grave risk to judicial independence, particularly for incumbents.”
Judicial Reform Report
In a 26-page report released today, NYCLA reconfirms its preference for an appointive selection system, while also articulating recommendations to foster an independent, high-quality judiciary under any selection model. The Report contains detailed proposals for the establishment of a commission-based selection system, while noting that adoption of such a proposal will require a constitutional amendment (and therefore cannot be readily accomplished). In the shortterm, NYCLA proposes amendments to the current convention system that address the constitutional deficiencies identified in Lopez Torres by providing adequate opportunities for qualified candidates to secure nomination and achieve the Feerick Commission’s goal of enhancing public confidence in the convention system.
While endorsing parts of the Feerick proposals, the NYCLA proposal differs significantly in many areas. It also criticizes flaws in the composition of the newly established Judicial Election Qualification Commissions. While NYCLA’s amendments include reducing the number of convention delegates, as proposed by the Feerick Commission, it calls the reduction to 35-50 delegates per convention “too drastic and could defeat one of the prime purposes of reform – dilution of the power of party leaders.” In addition, NYCLA’s proposal would substantially reduce the number of signatures needed to run for the position of convention delegate (far more than under the Feerick proposals) in order to afford greater opportunities for challengers.
NYCLA also considered selection via an open primary system and concluded that in the absence of public financing that selection method is not an acceptable alternative.
NYCLA’s President Norman L. Reimer noted that “the federal court must enforce the United States Constitution, but the ultimate responsibility to fix our judicial selection system and restore public confidence in the judiciary rests with the Legislature. This is not just an opportunity to act, it is a fundamental test of democracy in New York State.” Mr. Reimer further stated that “whether the Legislature opts for a nonpartisan, transparent appointive system or a reformed elective system is less important than that it act and act now.”
The New York County Lawyers’ Association (www.nycla.org) was founded in 1908 as the first major bar association in the country that admitted members without regard to race, ethnicity, religion or gender. Since its inception, it has pioneered some of the most far-reaching and tangible reforms in American jurisprudence and has continuously played an active role in legal developments and public policy.
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