New Kings Democrats periodically produces explainers to provide helpful information to Brooklynites as they make decisions about how to engage with key races and policy issues.
In 2019, Brooklynites have several choices to make about which judges to elect -- but the process by which judges are elected is murky. Check out NKD's May 2019 explainer -- A Fair Shot: The County Party and Judicial Elections in Brooklyn.
About this explainer:
Three courts in New York City have elected judges: the Supreme Court of New York State, Surrogate’s Court, and the Civil Court of New York City, while other courts are presided over by appointed judges. The system for electing judges is heavily influenced by political party County Committees, including the Kings County (Brooklyn) Democratic County Committee, through law and custom. The County Committee leadership benefits from their grip on judicial elections in multiple ways: it can give them sway over the employment of court staff and appointment of court-ordered financial guardians and incentivizes judicial candidates to make monetary contributions to their campaign accounts.
In a 2008 Supreme Court ruling that upheld New York’s judicial convention system after a challenge from reformers, Justice Antonin Scalia said simply: “None of our cases establishes an individual’s constitutional right to have a ‘fair shot’ at winning the party’s nomination.”[i] It falls to the voters and legislators, not the Constitution, to ensure that candidates have a fair shot. We have seen efforts to reform the judicial election process, including the creation of ethics requirements and screening panels, but these efforts have been uneven in efficacy. The underlying issues remain.
The Policy Committee of New Kings Democrats, a political club committed to bringing transparency and accountability to the Kings County Democratic County Committee, put this document together in the Spring of 2019 in an effort to bring awareness and clarity to judicial elections and the role that the County Committee plays. The Committee depended on legal documents, news reports, and interviews with individuals involved in Brooklyn politics.
And finally, a note: Our concerns about the judicial election process do not mean that we believe the candidates in Brooklyn's June 2019 judicial primary are not competent or worthy of the position. In fact, we’re excited to see several candidates outlining their vision for how they will build a more democratic Brooklyn if elected to a judicial position.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or concerns.
[i] New York Times, “Justices Uphold New York’s Judge System” (January 17, 2008), Judgehttps://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/17/nyregion/17scotus.html.