As reported in this Buffalo Business First article, on April 26th, Governor Spitzer offered a judicial reform package that would substantially change the New York judicial system as we know it.
First, Supreme Court justices would no longer be elected, an issue that has been hotly debated ever since a U.S. District Court ruled that the current judicial nominating system was unconstitutional:
(T)he governor wants to be able to appoint justices of the Supreme Court, the lowest level of New York state court, to be chosen by regional judicial nominating commissions. Supreme Court judges are elected for 14-year terms...Under Spitzer's plan local judicial commissions would vet candidates and forward a list of potential justices to the governor, who would make the final selection. The same system is used to pick judges for the four Appellate Division courts.
The proposed reform goes even further than that, however, and suggests that a number of changes be implemented, including:
- Consolidating the state's trial courts into a two-tiered statewide system
- Increasing the number of Supreme Court judges
- The creation of a fifth appellate court division
- Allowing appellate division to be redrawn every ten years instead of being fixed
- Increasing judicial salaries
- Supreme Court judges would receive an annual salary of $162,100, and effective April 1, 2006, Supreme Court judges would get $165,200. Salaries of all other judicial officers would be based on a percentage of the salary set for Supreme Court Justices
Major changes are on the horizon should this reform package be enacted. Some of the proposed changes, such as increasing judicial salaries and adding more Supreme Court judges, make sense to me.
But, I was somewhat surprised by the proposed changes regarding the addition of an appellate division and allowing the redistricting of the appellate divisions every ten years. I haven't read anything that has indicated that the current set up is problematic, so it seems strange that the Governor wants to enact such extreme changes. But, maybe I'm missing a piece of the puzzle.
Either way, I'm having a hard time envisioning the effect of all of these changes--particularly as they relate to the appellate divisions. Would the overall effect be good, bad, or negligible? What do you think?