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New York: (highest) Supreme Court to hear challenge to selection of justices for (lower) Supreme Court

The New York Times reports: The United States Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to review New York’s method of selecting candidates to its own Supreme Courts — the 324 judges who have general trial jurisdiction throughout the state and whose nomination to 14-year terms is tightly controlled by a political process that two lower federal courts declared unconstitutional last year.

The lower court rulings, which were stayed until after the 2006 election cycle, have created turmoil in the state’s judicial politics and spurred calls for fundamental change in a system that dates to 1921. The political parties control the nominating conventions, and candidates who are not favored by the parties’ leaders have no chance of getting on the ballot. The actual elections are for the most part uncontested.

From 1994 to 2002, these nominating conventions in the state’s 12 judicial departments chose 568 State Supreme Court candidates, none of whom were challengers to the party favorites. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in a ruling last August affirming a decision issued five months earlier by Judge John Gleeson of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, ruled that the system was so exclusionary as to violate the First Amendment right of the state’s voters to freedom of political association.

“The First Amendment guarantees voters and candidates a realistic opportunity to participate in the nominating phase free from severe and unnecessary burdens,” Judge Chester J. Straub wrote for a three-judge panel of the appeals court. He added that the United States Supreme Court’s election-law precedents “establish that the First Amendment prohibits a state from maintaining an electoral scheme that in practice excludes candidates, and thus voters, from participating in the electoral process.” -- Supreme Court Will Review the Way New York Selects Judicial Candidates - New York Times

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