The bedrock of our democracy is the rule of law and that means we have to have an independent judiciary, judges who can make decisions independent of the political winds that are blowing.
The New York State Constitution defines the powers and structure of the Judiciary in Article 6. The Judiciary is one of the three branches of government in New York State.
The current Constitution imposes a rigid structure to the Judiciary. There are many provisions in the Judiciary Article that are outdated, and hamper the operation of the courts, but since they are codified in the Constitution, they can only be addressed by Constitutional change.
On one level, it matters because it forces the legislature to make end runs around the constitution in order to keep the justice system running. For example, the Constitution sets the maximum number of Supreme Court Justices (New York’s Court of General Jurisdiction) in New York to roughly one for every 50,000 people, regardless of the caseload of the courts. These are also elected Judges, and as such are held accountable via the electoral process. Unfortunately, if the limit imposed by the Constitution were adhered to, the courts would be backlogged for a very long time. The Constitution also provides that in special circumstances, Court of Claims Judges can sit temporarily as Supreme Court Judges. For decades now, the Legislature has been avoiding making systemic changes and has opted to create an entire class of Court of Claims Justices that do nothing but hear cases in Supreme Court. This should be a matter of particular concern to those who value democratic principles, because Court of Claims Judges are appointed, and Supreme Court Judges are elected. This is just one example of the many ways that the Judiciary article is flawed, and the Legislature is forced to make end runs around the State Constitution just to make it function.
As it stands now, the State Constitution hampers our judiciary at every turn, and imposes limitations that do not serve to ensure the delivery of justice, do not serve to protect the innocent, and certainly do nothing to promote efficiency in our courts. We need a long term solution, to the systemic issues that tie our legislature's hands behind its back, and imposes outdated and inefficient limitations on our courts system.
§6. d. The supreme court is continued. It shall consist of the number of justices of the supreme court including the justices designated to the appellate divisions of the supreme court, judges of the county court of the counties of Bronx, Kings, Queens and Richmond and judges of the court of general sessions of the county of New York authorized by law on the thirty-first day of August next after the approval and ratification of this amendment by the people, all of whom shall be justices of the supreme court for the remainder of their terms. The legislature may increase the number of justices of the supreme court in any judicial district, except that the number in any district shall not be increased to exceed one justice for fifty thousand, or fraction over thirty thousand, of the population thereof as shown by the last federal census or state enumeration. The legislature may decrease the number of justices of the supreme court in any judicial district, except that the number in any district shall not be less than the number of justices of the supreme court authorized by law on the effective date of this article.
S4587: Increases the mandatory retirement age for all judges and justices of the unified court system, except for justices of town and village courts, from 70 to 74; permits justices of the supreme court and judges of the court of appeals to continue in service past the mandatory retirement age for three two year terms.