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?

A New York City Judicial Delegate is a position elected by voters to nominate judges. The sole function of a judicial delegate (or an alternate in the event the judicial delegate is unavailable) is to represent their district at the Judicial Nominating Convention. At this convention, delegates vote to nominate judges to the NY State Supreme Court. The judges selected will then appear on voter ballots in the general election. The winner of that election will serve as a Supreme Court Justice for a 14-year term.

See who is running for Judicial Delegate in your Assembly District here.

Who gets to be a Judicial Delegate?

To be eligible to be a Judicial Delegate in NYC, you must be a registered voter and a member of a political party. We vote for Judicial Delegates in primary elections.

To get on the ballot, a delegate must collect a certain number of signatures from registered Democrats in their district. Delegates will only appear on the ballot if the election is competitive, meaning there are more candidates than open seats.

Issues with this process: Often, Judicial Delegates tend to be members of local political clubs or associates of political leaders. They usually have support from District Leaders, who help them petition and collect signatures. When Judicial Delegates are hand-picked by party leaders they are more likely to nominate party-selected judges. This gives political insiders and big donors an unfair path to winning Supreme Court seats and party leadership a lot of power in selecting judges.

Find out more about District Leaders here.

Why are Judicial Delegates important?

The NY Supreme Court has a unique election process unlike any other judicial election. It uses a nominating convention rather than a standard primary election.

Instead of voters electing these judges in a primary election, Judicial Delegates vote to nominate judges to the ballot. Regular voters do not have a lot of say in choosing the final candidates. Judicial Delegates are important because they can make sure voter preferences are represented in the nominating process. 

Issues with this process: In Brooklyn, the Democratic Party is so dominant that there's usually no competition for these seats in the primary election. The party leadership limits the number of candidates for judicial seats to just one. As a result, when voters head to the polls, they often have no choice but to elect the candidate already chosen by the party leaders.

This means that the dominant party and its leadership hold a disproportionate amount of power over who gets to be a judge. Ideally, the process would be more transparent, and voters would get to take part earlier in the nomination process. 

How should we choose Judicial Delegates?

An ideal candidate for Judicial Delegate...

  • Will attend the Judicial Nominating Convention.
  • Will actively take part in the judicial selection process. 
  • Will work to make this obscure process more accessible and transparent. 
  • Is willing to put in the time and effort needed to make informed decisions about the party's nominees for judgeships.

Why is choosing a reform-minded Judicial Delegate important?

The Supreme Court holds real power over the lives of New Yorkers. Nominating judges is an important job. The process for electing Supreme Court Judges should be easy to understand, fair, competitive, and transparent. Today, the system is complex and lacks accountability. Reform candidates will fight to change how judges are chosen in Brooklyn. 

Is the NY Supreme Court like the U.S. 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 NY Supreme Court do?

The New York Supreme Court is the trial court of general jurisdiction in New York State. It is the highest trial court in the state and it hears a wide range of civil and criminal cases. It has broad authority over many types of cases, including high dollar civil lawsuits, criminal prosecutions, divorce proceedings, and family law matters.

The New York Supreme Courts are not New York's courts of last resort. The Court of Appeals is the highest court in New York. Judges who serve on the Court of Appeals must serve as judges on the Supreme Court first. Thus, the selection of Supreme Court judges can have long term effects.

For 2023, there are seven vacancies in Brooklyn for the Supreme Court.


Why don't I see Judicial Delegates on my ballot?

Delegates will only appear on the ballot if the election is competitive, meaning there are more candidates than open seats. If you don't see any Judicial Delegates on your ballot that means that the election is not competitive and those who are running will automatically be selected. 

Who is running for Judicial Delegate in my district?

Visit our website to see the slates of candidates running for Judicial Delegate in 2023: bkjudicialdelegates.com

How many delegates are there in each district?

This will vary by Assembly district. The number of delegates and alternate delegates is governed by each party's internal rules, although New York States Election Law requires that the allotted number be substantially proportional to the percentage of total votes cast statewide for the party’s gubernatorial candidate in the last election.

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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