NY Times on Judges – What They Left Out

Sunday’s NY Times lead editorial in its City & Regional sections was about reforming New York’s courts

In the editorial the Times criticized former Governor Pataki –

The urgency of this task is attributable in no small measure to indifference by Mr. Spitzer’s predecessor, George Pataki. Although he periodically gave lip service to making improvements in the courts, occasionally following through, Mr. Pataki generally shied from expending the necessary energy or political capital to persuade the State Legislature to go along. To the extent Mr. Pataki led in this sphere, it was mostly by bad example. His misuse of the governor’s judicial appointment power to play politics — even to the extent of packing Manhattan’s appellate court with upstate Republicans — has left a legacy of mediocrity and cronyism.

And as a solution one of the proposals supported by the Times is merit selection of judges.

However, the Times and other reformers who favor merit selection over democratic elections seem to be ignoring the fact that those “mediocre cronies that Pataki packed Manhattan’s appellate court with” were, in part, a product of merit selection.

In 1975, former Governor Hugh Carey created a system where judicial screening committees nominate candidates for appointment to judicial offices, including elected Supreme Court justices for designation as justices of the appellate division of the Supreme Court. Former Governors Cuomo and Pataki have continued this system. So the judges Pataki has picked to sit in Manhattan's courts have been approved by "independent" panels.

So we once again get to the point I have been making in the past – no system in practice has shown that it doesn’t prevent our getting bad judges.