Supreme Court of the State of New York
The Supreme Court of the State of New York includes 62 courts--one Supreme Court for each County. These courts are the highest trial courts in New York State, and are of general jurisdiction.
The statewide Supreme Court
- "...generally hears cases outside the authority of the lower courts such as civil matters beyond the monetary limits of the lower courts’ jurisdiction, divorce, separation and annulment proceedings, and criminal prosecutions of felonies." ("The New York State Courts: An Introductory Guide," a publication released by the New York State Unified Court System)
In October 2012, political science professors Adam Bonica and Michael Woodruff of Stanford University attempted to determine the partisan outlook of state supreme court justices in their paper, State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns. A score above 0 indicated a more conservative leaning ideology while scores below 0 were more liberal. The state Supreme Court of New York was given a Campaign finance score (CFscore) which was calculated for judges in October 2012. At that time, New York received a score of -0.24. Based on the justices selected, New York was the 18th most liberal court. The study is based on data from campaign contributions by judges themselves, the partisan leaning of contributors to the judges or, in the absence of elections, the ideology of the appointing body (governor or legislature). This study is not a definitive label of a justice but rather, an academic gauge of various factors.
Outside New York City, the Supreme Courts typically handle large civil cases. These courts also have the authority to hear criminal felony cases, but felony cases are usually heard in the County Courts. In the 5 New York City districts however, each Supreme Court has a criminal term, or division, which handles large felony cases. The New York City Supreme Courts also have civil terms which handle civil cases. Smaller civil cases and less serious criminal cases are handled in other courts.
Appeals from Supreme Court decisions go to the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, which is New York's intermediate appellate court divided into four appellate departments. Notwithstanding the departments, the Appellate Division is one court, and its decisions are binding on all lower courts unless there is a conflict among the appellate departments. New York's highest appellate court is the New York Court of Appeals; appeals are taken from the four departments to the Court of Appeals; decisions from the Court of Appeals are binding throughout the state.
The counties are grouped into judicial districts from which the justices are elected. Judgeships are then allotted among the counties of the district. There are 13 judicial districts in New York.
New York Supreme Court justices are elected to 14-year terms. In practice, most of the power of selecting judges belongs to local political party organizations who cross-endorse each others' candidates. Regardless of the term for which they are elected, justices retire at the end of the year in which they reach the age of seventy years, though subject to annual review justices may serve till the age of 76, a replacement being chosen to a fresh 14-year term that November with effect from the start of the following year.
In the Spring of 2007, a federal district court in Brooklyn declared the method of nominating Supreme Court justices to be unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Judge John Gleeson stated: "A state may decide whether or not voters will be the best choosers of judges. But it may not say one thing – 'The justices of the supreme court shall be chosen by the electors,' N.Y. Const. art. VI § 6(c) – and do quite another, as they have here by effectively transferring the power to choose major party leaders. Put simply . . . the state may not pass off the will of the party leaders as the will of the people. Because that is exactly what the New York judicial convention system does, it violates the First Amendment." In late August 2006, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit unanimously affirmed Gleeson’s ruling, which mandates open primaries until the state legislature builds a new system. The old system remains in place under a stay for the 2006 judicial election process. On February 20, 2007, the Supreme Court of the United States granted petition for certiorari in this case. The case will be argued on October 3, 2007, with the decision expected by June 2008.
Because the number of elected Supreme Court Justices is far less than the number of judges needed in many counties, there are provisions for judges of the New York City Civil Court, New York City Criminal Court, New York Family Court, and New York Court of Claims to be designated as Acting Supreme Court Justices.