Court Reinstates Election Rules for New York Judges

In New York State Board of Elections v. Torres, the US Supreme Court today reinstated New York’s method for selecting Democratic and Republican judicial candidates, saying the decades-old approach doesn’t violate the constitutional rights of voters or would-be candidates. The justices voted unanimously to uphold the system, under which voters choose delegates to attend conventions where the trial-court nominees are selected. A federal appeals court said the system gives too much power to party leaders at the expense of so-called insurgent candidates.

“None of our cases establishes an individual’s constitutional right to have a ‘fair shot’ at winning the party’s nomination,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the court. Scalia’s opinion was joined by six members of the Court. Justices John Paul Stevens joined the opinion but also wrote separately, joined by Justice David H. Souter, to stress that the Court was not ruling on the wisdom of New York’s approach. “The Constitution does not prohibit legislatures from enacting stupid laws,” Stevens wrote. Kennedy wrote separately, joined by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, to raise questions about the wisdom of picking judges by popular election. “The persisting question,” Kennedy wrote, “is whether that process is consistent with the preception and the reality of judicial independence and judicial excellence.”

The New York system, unique in the nation, has been in place since 1921. It was challenged by a group of Democratic and Republican voters and judicial candidates. The Democratic and Republican parties supported the New York system. A federal trial judge said the rules were unconstitutional and ordered the state to shift to a primary system until it could overhaul its convention procedures. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York then upheld that ruling.

Source: Bloomberg, U.S. Supreme Court Reinstates New York Election Rules by Greg Stohr, January 16, 2008

See also SCOTUSBLOG, by Lyle Denniston, January 16, 2008