NYSBA advocates for lifting cap on state Supreme Court justices

June 12, 2024 Robert Abruzzese, Courthouse Editor
Domenick Napoletano, president of the New York State Bar Association, discusses the need to remove the cap on the number of state Supreme Court justices. Eagle file photo by John McCarten
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The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) has voted to urge the state Legislature to approve a constitutional amendment that would enable voters to decide whether to remove the current limit on the number of state Supreme Court justices. The decision was made during the NYSBA’s meeting on Saturday.

The proposed amendment, which the New York State Legislature approved on Thursday, must also receive approval from the next Legislature, set to convene in January 2025, before it can be placed on the ballot. Gov. Kathy Hochul does not play a role in advancing constitutional amendments to the ballot.

Under the current New York Constitution, the number of state judges is capped at one per 50,000 residents. The NYSBA has argued that this limit strains the court system, particularly in densely populated areas such as New York City, Long Island, and parts of the Hudson Valley. A 2017 report from the NYSBA had previously called for reconsidering this cap.

“The constitutionally prescribed limit is unworkable,” NYSBA President Domenick Napoletano said. “It has forced the state’s court system to keep Acting Supreme Court Justices in the state’s busiest courts on an almost permanent basis, depleting the resources of the courts to which they were elected. New Yorkers deserve an adequate number of judges.”

The call to remove the cap was bolstered by a September 2023 report from the New York City Bar Association, which received endorsement from the NYSBA’s House of Delegates. The report also suggests evaluating whether there are enough judges in other courts across the state, including Family Court.

Hon. Frank Seddio, former chair of the Kings County Democratic Party, has been a consistent advocate for lifting the cap. He emphasizes that Brooklyn’s court system is the largest in the country, rivaled only by Los Angeles, and argues that the cap disproportionately affects the borough, causing significant delays and inefficiencies in the judicial process.

Support for the amendment spans various sections of the NYSBA, including the Commercial & Federal Litigation Section, Family Law Section, Young Lawyers Section, LGBTQ+ Law Section, and the Committee on the New York State Constitution.

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