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"One Man One Vote. I do not think it means what you think it means." - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...
"One Man One Vote. I do not think it means what you think it means."
Odd-numbered years are generally off-season for federal and state politics around here; almost all of the races are local. This year, there was an exception, though: a seat opened up locally through an unexpected resignation on State Supreme Court. Despite its name, it is not the highest court in the state, but it's the highest New York State court to which judges are elected. And it's a nice gig- 14 year term, decent pay, and a virtual fiefdom where you get to set your own rules, hire your own people, and account to nobody until your term is up unless you really go over the deep end.

A friend of mine decided to run.  Over the summer, I've heard about him doing Those Things You Do to get elected: pressing the flesh at summer festivals, marching in parades, and of course attending fundraisers for fellow party faithful.

He's got a good temperament, a good work ethic, a good range of experience in both law and politics. In short, in my opinion he'd be a good judge.

Good luck with that.

In a function that sounds like something out of Night Vale, beginning tomorrow night, small groups of "judicial delegates" will meet in closed session, in venues designated by their respective political party leaders (the Dems will be at their Buffalo headquarters, the Republicans at- I swear I am not making this up- "a vacant store in an Amherst plaza at Maple and North Forest roads"), and they will vote for the Supreme Court candidate their Dear Leader Party Chairman tells them to.  This is virtually assured since the Dear Leader Party Chairman, in almost every case, hand-picked those delegates to do just that.  So the Republicans will name Some Guy, and my party will name Not My Friend, and the two of them will face off in November- unlike some years, where the Dear Leader Party Chairmen go out for a beer and decide to cross-endorse the same Some Guy (or Gal) and there's no choice on the ballot.

I doubt if a tiny fraction of the general public- and not a much bigger fraction of the practicing Bar- has any idea that this is how it happens.  It's not that we're completely out of the loop; judicial candidates frequently send me tickets to fundraisers (and the big law firms generally buy many tickets to all of them so they won't create the appearance of impropriety by not donating to the eventual winner); fellow attorneys sometimes ask me to sign on to the mailings sent out by "Friends of Some Gal" committees; and some will ask you to plant a lawn sign or help pass out literature.  My friend never did (even though I offered); I suspect he knew the game was rigged and he's just doing Good Soldier duty until it's "his turn."

A few years ago, there was a near storming of the Bar-stille to stop this nonsense. A lower court judge in New York City got stonewalled in her effort to move up to State Supreme, because, she alleged (and nobody ever really disputed), she wasn't making enough patronage hires in her existing Chambers to satisfy her Dear Leader Party Chairman. So she sued- and won at two levels of federal court. Unfortunately, the Dear Leader Party Chairmen of both major parties were so threatened by this outcome, they went all the way to the Real Supreme Court, and overturned the overturning- unanimously, although various factions of SCOTUS did so holding their noses and saying, literally, that legislatures have the right to enact stupid legislation as long as it isn't unconstitutional.

Why, you ask, does the State of New York put such unbridled power in the hands of Dear Leader Party Chairmen to pick the brightest and the best (for them) before the voters get a chance? 

Read back that last sentence, remembering that those same Dear Leader Party Chairmen put the legislators into their jobs, and you'll have answered your own question. Butbutbut,.... a legislator would say (struggling to keep a straight face), "but that's not the only way it works. Anyone can petition to become a judicial delegate. Just get 500 signatures from your own State Assembly district and we'll put you on the ballot on Primary Day."

That's true. It also happens about as rarely as a Bills playoff appearance.  I did vote in my party's primary, two weeks ago- entirely for judges, of lower, local courts.  No race for Judicial Delegate. There are at least eight Assembly Districts based within Erie County; only one of them had a Democratic primary, and that was largely the result of an in-fighting hissyfit between party factions in that part of the county.  None of the candidates in that anomalous contest were names I recognized from practicing law, or from community or good-government groups; all were the usual gang of party hacks, only running against each other because Jeremy and Frankie hate each other and had to be separated at recess.

I also suspect that the 500-signature requirement is more like 5,000- because as soon as an Outsider tries to get in to the game, he or she is subjected to the Wrath of Con Men- who immediately dispatch professional petition objectors to find anything and everything wrong with who signed, when they signed, how they signed, and if they were notarized and, if so, properly so.  I would also expect backlash from some sitting judges- especially any that might be up for re-election during that cycle.  They're not supposed to, BECAUSE THAT WOULD BE WRONG, but they're also not supposed to consider who donates to their campaigns, even as they keep meticulous lists of who those people are.

Still, come January, I may just mosey on down to the Board of Elections- the biggest assemblage of foxes running a henhouse you will find anywhere- and ask for a petition for 2014 Judicial Delegate nomination to that fall's primary ballot. I will then expect a brief pause, while the patronage hire at the counter notifies her supervisor, who will then instantly be on the Hot Line to the Dear Party Chairman to warn him that something is up.  That's also about the time I'll expect to find far longer calendars for my motions, and shorter grace periods on my parking tickets.

Anyone else want to? Come on- it'll be fun!

This entry was originally posted at http://captainsblog.dreamwidth.org/159385.html. Please comment here, or there using OpenID.
5 comments or Leave a comment
xiphias From: xiphias Date: September 22nd, 2013 02:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
The very idea of elected judgeships is a terrible one in the first place.
captainsblog From: captainsblog Date: September 22nd, 2013 02:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's true. At least we've gotten the highest levels out of the game- I remember when the real Highest Court in the State was elected, and the hack who became the last elected Chief Judge later went down in flames in a sex scandal.

The Guv now appoints all of them from a list of candidates deemed qualified by a (supposedly) nonpartisan panel. At the intermediate level, it's a mix- the Appellate Division (better known to me as the Five Guys And Gals Who Can Disbar Me) is appointed, but from the ranks of elected State Supreme judges. That tends to work out a little better, too.

Once you get legislatures involved in the process (as the Constitution requires for federal judges at all levels)? You get an equally bad goat rodeo- where delays and filibusters and partisan BS is just as bad, just of a slightly different smell.
xiphias From: xiphias Date: September 22nd, 2013 02:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
Massachusetts has never had any sort of elected judgeships, and we've managed to somehow keep the nomination process, well, LESS partisan-ly ugly than most of the rest of the governmental processes. I mean, there's still a lot of ugliness and ickiness, but it's still cleaner-than-average. John Adams was EXTREMELY adamant that appointed judgeships were far less-worse than elected ones, and he wrote the Massachusetts constitution, so the idea that judges must have nothing to do with politics is as deeply ingrained in Massachusetts as anything is.

Which isn't to say that judges DO have nothing to do with politics, of course. Just that we're CLOSER than a lot of places.
bill_sheehan From: bill_sheehan Date: September 22nd, 2013 03:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
Why do I have mental picture of the Springfield Republican Party meeting in a creepy mountaintop castle?

captainsblog From: captainsblog Date: September 22nd, 2013 05:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'd consider that an improvement right about now.
5 comments or Leave a comment