What the heck is a Judicial Delegate, and why is electing NY Supreme Court Judges so confusing?

Electing New York Supreme Court judges should be fair, competitive, and transparent. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party engages in an unnecessarily complex process and lacks accountability. Reforming this undemocratic system will take work. The first step is to educate voters (like you!) on how the process works today and the candidates running to reform the system. Let’s break it down.

What is a Judicial Delegate?

Every year, voters elect Judicial Delegates to represent your Assembly District at the Judicial Nominating Convention in August. They gather to nominate judges to fill empty New York State Supreme Court seats. The nominated judges appear on the general election ballot and, in most of NYC, the Democratic nominees win. In other words, the judges are effectively chosen at the Convention.

In many cases, Judicial Delegates are hand-picked by leaders of their county Democratic Party and rubber-stamp the candidates put forward by those leaders. This can give party insiders and donors an unfair path to winning Supreme Court seats.

Who gets to be a Judicial Delegate?

People who want to be Judicial Delegates must first collect enough petition signatures from voters in their district. Democratic District Leaders from each Assembly District often play a role in helping Judicial Delegates get on petitions and collect signatures.

If more people want to be delegates than there are seats in the district, then their names will appear on the Primary ballot, and voters will choose. But most of the time, only one person runs for each seat, so they win their primary by default without appearing on the ballot.

How should you choose Judicial Delegates?

Given how obscure New York’s process is for electing Supreme Court judges, we support candidates who will work to make the process more accessible and transparent.

Is the New York Supreme Court like the US Supreme Court?

Not quite. Unlike the federal government, New York’s Supreme Court is not the highest in the state (that would be the New York State Court of Appeals). Brooklyn has 49 Supreme Court justices.

What does the Supreme Court do?

New York’s Supreme Court oversees civil cases involving more than $50,000. For example, if a construction worker dies on a construction site, their family may sue the contractor for unsafe working conditions in Supreme Court. In New York City, the Supreme Court also has a Criminal Division that hears felony-level criminal cases.

If you’ve gotten this far and want to learn more:

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Read our report: A Fair Shot: The County Party and Judicial Elections in Brooklyn.

Download and print our quick explainer

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