Faculty Notes

Prof. James Sample Quoted in Buffalo News Story on Cross-Endorsements in State Supreme Court Elections

James Sample , Professor of Law

Cross-endorsements expected to hand judgeships to Colaiacovo and Sedita
Party leaders assure picks with ‘cross-endorsements’
By Robert J. McCarthy
The Buffalo News
August 29, 2015

Excerpt:

James J. Sample, a law professor at Long Island’s Hofstra University, noted that in a state famous for its “three men in a room” legislative system, even bigger problems plague the judiciary.

“It’s really sad that it’s about two men in a room in judicial districts around the state,” Sample said. “Whether it’s Tammany Hall or Erie County, it’s the furthest thing one could imagine from a democratic process.”

New York’s judicial nominating convention system passed muster with the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 (after a Brooklyn federal judge declared it unconstitutional in 2006).

But critics continue to pan the back-room deals that are by no means uncommon.

Roughly half – 23 of 47 – of all State Supreme Court elections since 1995 were essentially decided by Erie County’s Republican and Democratic chairmen via cross-endorsements.

Sample, who was among those challenging the judicial nominating convention system a decade ago, said that party leaders like to think their choices reflect the political will of voters.

“The notion, however, that their connection to the electorate is direct enough that they could be held accountable for this self-dealing is unrealistic enough to be bordering on fantasy,” he said.

But as a longtime student of the way New York nominates its State Supreme Court candidates and as a former attorney for the Brennan Center for Justice and New York University Law School that unsuccessfully challenged the system, Sample said nobody should expect changes soon.

Judicial nominating conventions remain tantamount to elections in heavily Democratic New York City, he said, and the influence of the city’s Democratic Party cannot be overemphasized.

Republicans, he noted, hold similar sway in some parts of upstate (though Western New York remains politically competitive).

“Solving the problem by getting rid of these party leaders is not going to happen,” he said. “And even if you changed the party leaders – absent some kind of benevolent dictatorship – you would just change the identities and not the systemic problem.”

Read the full article.

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