Today, the New York Daily News published an op-ed by Gov. Kathy Hochul on the selection process for the next Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. The text of the comment is available below and can be viewed online here.
New York will soon have a new Chief Judge at the Court of Appeals, our state’s highest court. The statutory selection process begins with the state commission on the appointment of judges, the majority of whose members were appointed before my tenure as governor. As required by law, they will send me a list of seven candidates from dozens of applicants from which I must select the best attorney in our state.
I will be working hard over the next month to identify the most qualified and able person for this role from that list, and then submit my nomination to the state Senate for approval.
Our Court of Appeals, New York’s court of last resort, has always been a crown jewel of the judiciary. Dating back to Chief Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo’s tenure as Chief Justice in the early 1900s and earlier, the court was known for its persuasive and thoughtful decisions — on issues ranging from consumer protection to the advancement of civil rights to right to effective legal assistance.
With that proud tradition in mind, I am seeking a Chief Justice to lead the Court at a time of great challenge and opportunity.
First, we need a leader who, through intelligence and conviction, can unite the established court to speak with a strong and respected voice.
The US Supreme Court has spoken — with decisions like Dobbs vs. Jackson stripping women of the right to vote, and New York State Rifle and Pistol Association vs. Bruen overturning a centuries-old law protecting New Yorkers from gun proliferation. Now more than ever, we rely on our state courts to protect our rights. We need our courts to defend ourselves against this Supreme Court’s rapid retreat from precedent and continue our march toward progress.
Second, we need a leader who can effectively manage the diverse and complex courts across the state. We have family courts, criminal courts, commercial courts, civil courts, housing courts, mental health courts, domestic violence courts, and other community, trial, and appellate courts. Due to the finding that jurors had to be two meters apart during COVID, criminal cases slowed to a crawl. The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the work of the courts and our new Chief Justice must work aggressively to restore judicial activity, particularly criminal proceedings, to pre-pandemic levels to protect public safety.
When I became governor in August 2021, I made it clear that the safety of New Yorkers would be my number one priority. From March 2020 to summer 2021 there were practically no criminal proceedings. This created a huge backlog in the judiciary that we still struggle with today, and has been accompanied by a significant increase in crime. I immediately worked to provide social distancing guidance to the court system, which helped revitalize grand juries.
But there is still more to do. At the start of the pandemic, Rikers Island held 883 pretrial defendants with 1,191 cases. Now Rikers has 1,418 pretrial defendants whose cases are more than a year old. The number of misdemeanor and felony cases pending in our courts has increased by 55% and 17%, respectively, since the pandemic began, based on data from the Office of Court Administration. The median case age for the main cases of persons being held at Rikers has tripled and the median number of criminal case adjournments has quadrupled. This has all resulted in more than double trouble for New York City and the state — and a major challenge for our next chief judge.
In summary, we need a leader to partner with me and my colleagues in the Legislature so that the three branches of government can work together to serve and protect the rights and safety of New Yorkers, to bring reform and modernization to the courts and to ensure that justice is done. We know that justice delayed is justice denied – not only for litigants and defendants, but also for victims of crime and others who depend on a functioning justice system.
You may not know it, but this will matter to all New Yorkers. The court decides on an enormous range of issues – from home protection and business disputes to medical malpractice and voting rights. You may not know it now, but you can definitely feel the repercussions of a decision by this court.
That’s a big challenge for our next Chief Judge. I am committed to selecting the best candidate to meet these challenges and sending a clear message that New York’s courts are open to business, protect the rights of individuals, uphold the rule of law, and work with other branches of government to ensure a safe and create a prosperous future for our state.