In the New York State court system, the vast majority of state judges are elected; while some are appointed, the methods vary.
Court of Appeals
Vacancies on New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, are filled via merit selection. Candidates submit their “applications” to the Commission on Judicial Nomination, a bipartisan body of 12 members. Four members are appointed by the Governor; four by the Chief Judge; one each by the Senate Majority Leader and the Assembly Speaker; and one each by the Senate and Assembly Minority Leaders. At least two of the Governor’s and two of the Chief Judge’s appointees must be non-lawyers. The Commission evaluates the candidates, determines which deserve the designation “well-qualified,” and narrows the list of well-qualified candidates to a maximum of seven. This list is forwarded to the Governor, who may choose only from the candidates on it. The Governor’s nominee is then sent to the New York State Senate for confirmation.
Vacancies in the Appellate Division, New York’s intermediate appellate court, are filled by gubernatorial appointment. The Governor chooses from among existing Supreme Court justices (who reached the bench via election) within that Department.
Justices of the Appellate Term of Supreme Court, which exists only in the First and Second Judicial Departments, are chosen by the Chief Administrative Judge, with the approval of the Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division. Justices are selected from the ranks of elected Supreme Court Justices in the Department.
Justices of the Supreme Court, New York’s trial court of general jurisdiction, are elected by the voters of the judicial district in which they serve. Candidates do not run in primaries; rather, they are nominated by judicial conventions in their districts. Cross-endorsements between parties are permitted, which means that, in some instances, voters in the general election may be faced with the same candidate’s name on the Democratic, Republican, Liberal, Conservative, Independent, Right-to-Life, and other parties’ lines on the ballot. When an interim vacancy occurs (for example, when a justice retires prior to the expiration of his or her term), the Governor appoints an interim justice, who must be confirmed by the Senate. The interim justice’s term expires at the next general election, at which time he or she must run (and win) in order to retain the office. the Office of Court Administration also has authority to elevate judges who sit on lower courts (for example, County Court or Family Court) to the Supreme Court to address caseload needs. Such judges are known as “Acting Supreme Court Justices.”
Surrogate’s Court judges, known simply as Surrogates, are nominated by their local party organizations. They are elected by the voters of the county in which they serve.
Court of Claims
Judges of the Court of Claims, which hears cases against the State of New York, are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. The Governor also designates a “Presiding Judge” of the Court of Claims.
County Court County Court judges are nominated by their county political party organizations,and are elected by the voters of the county in which they serve. In some areas, particularly in rural upstate counties, County Court judges must do double or treble duty, serving simultaneously as the local Family Court judge and/or as the local Surrogate.
Like County Court judges, Family Court judges are also nominated by their local parties, and are elected by the voters in the counties in which they serve. There is one exception to this rule: In New York City, Family Court judges are appointed by the Mayor.
City Court, District Court, Civil and Criminal Courts of the City of New City of New York, and Housing Court
Voters also elect the judges of the District Courts of Long Island, the City Courts outside New York City, and the Civil Court of the City of New York. Judges of the Criminal Court of the City of New York, as well as the Family Court in New York City, are screened by the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on the Judiciary, which submits a list of qualified candidates, from which he makes the appointment. The Mayor also has authority to appointment judges to fill interim vacancies on the New York City Civil Court. Finally, the New York City Housing Court is actually a Part of the New York City Civil Court; the Administrative Judge of the Civil Court appoints its judges.
Town and Village Justice Courts
The final tier of courts in New York comprises the town and village justice courts. Again, justices are elected by the voters in their municipalities. However, unlike judges of all other New York State courts, justices of the town and village justice courts need not be lawyers (although they are required to undergo certain training).