Gov. Kathy Hochul vowed Wednesday to nominate “a thoughtful individual” to lead New York’s highest court and the state judiciary branch.
Hochul’s nominee to the state Court of Appeals is subject to state Senate confirmation. The process is expected to be a closely watched one in New York political and legal circles as progressive advocates and Democratic state lawmakers have raised concerns over court rulings in recent months they believe have tilted the court to the right on criminal justice issues.
But the governor gave little away as to what qualities she is looking for in a nominee to replace Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who is set to retire at the end of August.
“I want to get the best jurist I can find in the state of New York regardless of any predispositions,” Hochul said. “A judge is expected to look at every case that comes before them with a balanced eye.”
Hochul is still waiting for the initial steps of the process to play out before she makes a decision. New York’s judicial nominating commission will propose a slate of potential candidates for Hochul to pick from to replace DiFiore.
Hochul pointed to the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned the Roe v. Wade decision, saying justices who did so had a “predisposition” to do so.
“I’m going to find someone who is a thoughtful individual, someone who is well-regarded in the legal community,” she said.
Some Democratic lawmakers and criminal justice advocates are urging Hochul to not select a former prosecutor for the chief judgeship. State Sen. Jessica Ramos in a statement said she wanted the nominee to help “reset” the court on key issues.
“Right now, New York’s legislature is leading the national debate on many fronts – workers’ rights, tenants’ rights, and reproductive justice to name a few,” Ramos said. “We can protect the important work we’ve done by building a bench that reflects our state’s diversity and progressive values. I look forward to seeing the slate of nominees and building consensus with my colleagues around the nominee who will best serve New York.”
Hochul, meanwhile, did not comment directly on the investigation facing DiFiore by the state’s main judicial watchdog entity. Instead, she pointed to DiFiore’s efforts to shift the court to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“She presided over a profoundly challenging time,” Hochul said.