New York Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals is New York's highest appellate court, created in 1847, replacing the Court for the Trial of Impeachments and the Correction of Errors. It consists of seven judges--one chief judge and six associate judges--who are now appointed by the governor to 14-year terms, having formerly been elected. Its 1842 Neoclassical courthouse is located in New York's capital, Albany.
In New York, unlike most other states of the U.S., the court officially designated as the "Supreme Court" is the trial court rather than the highest court of the state; this nomenclature sometimes leads to confusion.
Another quirk that leads to confusion is in the titles of the jurists who sit on the court. In most states and the federal court system, members of the highest court are titled "Justices." In New York, the members of the Court of Appeals are titled "Judges," while those who preside in the lower trial courts are known as "Justices." In New York, the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals is also the head of the court system's administration, and is thus also known as the Chief Judge of the State of New York. Currently, that is Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, who is spearheading an effort to reform criminal sentencing by considering the collateral consequences of criminal charges.
The Court's most famous judge was Benjamin Cardozo (who was later appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States). Cardozo authored many landmark cases during his tenure, including Palsgraf v. Long Island Rail Road Co., MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co. and Wood v. Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon.
During the late 20th century, the most famous judge on the Court of Appeals was Chief Judge Sol Wachtler, who was elected to the court in 1972 and appointed Chief Judge in 1985. He was renowned for the fine quality of his legal opinions. Wachtler's career ended disastrously in November 1992 when the FBI arrested him for stalking a wealthy woman with whom he had previously been having an affair.
The court is also notable for being one of only two states to declare the death penalty statute unconstitutional, which the court did in the case of People v. LaValle in June, 2004.
In July 2006, the court, applying rational-basis scrutiny, held 4-2 (Judge Albert M. Rosenblatt recused) that the New York Constitution does not compel recognition of same-sex marriage. Judge Robert S. Smith, writing for the three-judge plurality, stated that "[w]hether such marriages should be recognized is a question to be addressed by the Legislature." Judge Victoria Graffeo concurred. Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, in a dissent signed onto by Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, criticized the majority opinion. Arguing that homosexuals are a "suspect class" and that the law infringes "the fundamental right to marry," Kaye stated the law warranted "heightened or strict scrutiny" rather than the rational-basis analysis applied by the majority.
New York Court rulings on ballot measures
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The current members of the Court of Appeals are:
- Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye
- Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick
- Judge Victoria A. Graffeo
- Judge Robert S. Smith
- Judge Theodore T. Jones
- Judge Susan P. Read
- Judge Eugene F. Pigott, Jr.