Constitutional Convention and the NYS Judiciary

This Election Day (November 7, 2017) New York voters will have the opportunity to decide whether a Constitutional Convention should be held within the next two years.

Voters will be asked to answer the question:

“Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?”

This right and responsibility is granted in New York State’s Constitution and the opportunity for the voters to decide whether to convene a convention occurs once every twenty years or “at such times as the legislature may by law provide.” Article XIX, §2. The last time the voters approved a constitutional convention was in 1967; in 1955, 1977 and 1997 the voters did not approve the convening of a convention. Click here for more details about convention history and amending the Constitution.

If the voters approve holding a convention, delegates will be chosen in the November 2018 election, and any changes or additions to the Constitution accepted by the delegates will be submitted for voter approval “at an election which shall be held not less than six weeks after the adjournment of such convention.” Article XIX, §2. November 2019 is the likely timeframe for this vote.

Modern Courts’ Position on the Constitutional Convention

There are many issues that could be addressed during a Constitutional Convention and many provisions that could be changed.

The Fund for Modern Courts will only address those issues that concern the courts and judiciary – matters contained within the Judiciary Article (VI) of the Constitution.

Modern Courts is not taking a position on whether there should or should not be a Constitutional Convention and will rely on an informed electorate to make that decision.

However, we do believe that if there is a convention there are many ways in which the Judiciary Article could be improved and we discuss those matters below.

Issues that should be addressed at a Convention:

There are a number of issues affecting the courts that can only be addressed by amending the Judiciary Article (VI) of the Constitution, including:

The Structure of the Courts

  • Modern Courts believes the current organization of the courts is needlessly complicated and inefficient.

Public Policy Relating to Judicial Selection

  • Modern Courts believes that judicial selection must be improved by adopting a qualification commission-based appointive system to select all judges and justices.

Judicial Resources

  • Modern Courts believes that increasing the number of justices is essential to ensure the fair administration of justice and access for all.

Other Matters

Some provisions of the current NYS Constitution MUST be preserved

Importantly, if there is a Convention, some provisions of the current Constitution must be preserved in order to maintain the integrity of the judicial system and keep the courts functioning. These include provisions in the existing Constitution which:

  • establish the Commission on Judicial Nomination and the qualification commission-based appointment system of selecting New York’s Court of Appeals judges;
  • provide the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals with the authority to administer the Unified Court System
  • establish the Commission on Judicial Conduct which has the authority to conduct, receive, initiate, investigate and hear complaints with respect to the conduct, qualifications, fitness to perform or performance of official duties of any judge or justice in any court; and
  • provide that judges of the Family Court within the City of New York and the judges of the court of city-wide criminal jurisdiction are appointed by the Mayor of the City of New York.

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