Cuomo retains ability to reshape court
By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Tuesday’s election asked New Yorkers to cast their votes on a ballot measure that would increase the judicial retirement age to 80. With a vote of 61 percent against to 39 percent in support, the measure failed, to the dismay of New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.
Lippman put his support behind the measure, arguing that if the proposal were to pass, approximately 20 additional judges would remain on the bench each year, assisting with the often-overburdened court calendar. Other proponents likened the measure to a form of age discrimination.
“We have to ask ourselves whether or not this is a reasonable policy or whether it is nothing more than age discrimination,” said Marc Levine, president of Gay/Straight Alliance of the New York State Courts.
The present law mandates that judges must retire once they reach 70. Elected justices, however, are permitted to seek three extensions of two years each. These extensions thus allow justices to serve until they are 76, barring any physical or mental disabilities. Lippman, 68, as well as three other Court of Appeals justices who are nearing 70, would have significantly benefited from the proposal’s passage.
Opponents of the measure, including New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo, cited reasons such as “an infusion of young blood on the bench,” as Levine mentioned in his rally for the proposal. Further, and perhaps more significant, extending the retirement age would allow two of the Republican judges on the Court of Appeals stay on for an additional 10 years.
Vincent Bonventre, a professor at Albany Law School, told the Associated Press that the Court of Appeals is "one of the great courts in American history" and often leads the way for federal and other state courts. Given the stature that New York’s highest court holds in the national legal community, Cuomo has significant interest in appointing more progressive jurists on the bench.
The original law was put in place in 1869, when the life expectancy was much lower than present day. “1869 was a long time ago, “ said Levine. “Today, most judges in their 70s have the brains and the energy to do as good a job as they ever did — maybe better.”
The proposed amendment did not cover lower court judges, who, according to The New York Times, make up three-quarters of the 1,259 jurists in the state.
“I am disappointed,” Judge Lippman said after receiving notice of proposal’s defeat. “We were unable to get a consistent message across that people should be judged on their ability to do the job and not on some outdated conceptions of age.”