New York's Judicial Selection Process is Fine - It's the Party System that Needs Fixing
New York State Bar Journal, Vol. 79, September 2007
18 Pages Posted: 5 Apr 2007
New York's system of electing lower court judges has long been notorious for providing the appearance of democracy without any of the substance. Although the people are given an opportunity to vote for judges, the really meaningful choices about who will run, where, and whether judicial elections will even be contested have for years been made by party insiders. Last year, in a case soon to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Second Circuit invalidated New York's method of electing judges on the ground that it violates the associational rights of party rank and file. In this brief essay, I argue that the Second Circuit misanalyzed the problems plaguing New York's judicial selection process. New York's method for choosing judges is basically sensible and structurally sound. The problem lies, rather, in New York's party system, which is utterly moribund. Until the state develops a well-functioning system of competitive and publicly accountable political parties - something that will require, at a minimum, breaking up the longstanding bipartisan gerrymander of the state legislature - no reform to the judicial selection process can be expected to produce meaningful change.
Keywords: Democracy, elections, judiciary, gerrymander, parties
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