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Parties selecting judicial candidates

Political parties will be meeting in the next seven days to select nominees for a Supreme Court justice post.

One seat, held by Judge Henry J. Scudder, is up. Scudder, who also is the presiding justice of the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, is seeking re-election to another 14-year term.

Supreme Court justices, who hold statewide offices, are selected through a judicial convention according to state Election Law. Todd Valentine, co-executive director of the New York State Board of Elections, explains that parties must meet between Sept. 21-27 to nominate their candidates and file their selections with the state by Sept. 27.

Monroe County Republicans are meeting Tuesday while the Democrats will meet Sept. 27. The Independence Party is meeting Wednesday. Its chairman, Stephen Corryn, said Judge Scudder is expected to be the only nominee. Information on the Conservative and Working Families parties was not immediately available.

“We’ve been doing it this way for quite awhile,” Valentine said. “It’s designed to insulate judicial candidates from the election process. They don’t have to petition to get on the ballot.”

Valentine said the convention-based system was adopted in 1921 to remove higher-level judges from the primary process.

“The primary election process became very difficult,” he said. “It required candidates to raise all sorts of money.”

Lawmakers at the time felt the system created the potential for partiality to donors. The convention system eliminates direct primaries, but maintains a representative democracy element by allowing the voters  to decide in the Nov. 2 general election.

Delegates are elected during the September primary from each of the state Assembly districts.

The numbers of delegates vary based on the most recent gubernatorial election. Monroe County Election Commissioner Thomas F. Farrarese said there are now seven Assembly districts in Monroe County. Some overlap with other counties, where those delegates also will elect Supreme Court justices.

“A convention is held at a site that is determined by the committee,” said Commissioner Peter M. Quinn. “The delegates and alternates are notified and they’ll cast their ballot for Supreme Court justice.”

Nominations for the open seats come from delegates, and then are voted on by the full convention.

There are 18 Supreme Court justice seats in the eight-county Seventh Judicial District, where judges must retire at the age of 70. Judge Scudder will turn 70 in 2015.

Once nominees are selected by the parties, their names are sent to the state Board of Elections for certification to be placed on the General Election ballot.


The convention-based system was challenged in 2004 by a Brooklyn woman who claimed the system allowed party chairmen to make the selection by influencing delegates, in violation of her First Amendment rights. Judge Margarita Lopez Torres — the petitioner — claimed that shortly after she was elected to a civil court in Kings County, Democratic Party leaders began to demand she make patronage hires. When she refused, they blocked her nomination to a Supreme Court judgeship.

Torres and other candidates argued the law burdened the rights of challengers seeking to run against candidates favored by party leadership and deprived voters and candidates of their rights to gain access to the ballot.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in January 2008 that “a political party has a First Amendment right to limit its membership as it wishes, and to choose a candidate selection process that will in its view produce the nominee who best represents its political platform.” New York State Board of Elections et. al. v. Lopez Torres et. al., 552 US 196 (2008).