Sunday, April 7, 2013

NYCOA: It's Abdus-Salaam

Governor Andrew Cuomo selected Appellate Division Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam as his nominee for the Court of Appeals.

If confirmed by the State Senate--which seems like an extremely good bet--she will be the 4th African-American to have been appointed to New York's highest court. Fritz Alexander, George Bundy Smith (both Governor Mario Cuomo appointees), and Theodore Jones (appointed by Governor David Patterson) have preceded her. She will fill the vacancy resulting from Jones' sudden death late last year.

To be entirely accurate, Harold Stevens was the 1st African-American to serve on the high court. In 1974, when selection to the Court of Appeals was still by election, Stevens was appointed by Governor Malcolm Wilson for an interim term to fill the vacancy created when Judge Charles Brietel was elected Chief Judge. Stevens served a year. He was then defeated at the polls when he ran for election for a full term.

So, if confirmed, Justice Abdus-Salaam will be the 5th African-American to serve on the Court of Appeals. But she will be the 1st Black woman.

Cuomo's nomination of Abdus-Salaam has been met with very favorable reaction. As noted previously in New York Court Watcher, she has proven herself a strong judge and she has earned a solid reputation. [See NYCOA: Who's on the List for the Jones' Vacancy? (Part 3: Abdus-Salaam & Renwick), April 3, 2013.]

[The best coverage, as is usually the case for news about the Court of Appeals, is in the New York Law Journal. Veteran Court journalist, John Caher, reported on the nomination in a story already available on line this weekend, with a Monday, April 8 byline. See First Department Justice Tapped for Top Bench; also available HERE. (Yes, I'm quoted in the story along with my much more reputable colleague, Professor Michael Hutter.)]

The State Senate has 30 days from the date of nomination to vote on confirmation. The Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican John Bonacic, has already commented favorably on Abdus-Salaam's nomination.

Bonacic and other Republicans on the committee grilled now-Judge Jenny Rivera aggressively last month. It was the 1st time the Judiciary Committee seemed fully engaged in its constitutional "advice and consent" duties for Court of Appeals nominations. It was a real hearing.
[See discussion on New York Court Watcher, The Rivera Hearings: The Committee & The Nominee Prove Themselves, Feb. 4, 2013.]

It will be very interesting to see how Abdus-Salaam is treated.

Namely, will the committee simply be a rubber stamp? Will its hearings be an utter waste of time, an abdication of the Senate's responsibilities under the state's judicial appointment scheme? That is exactly what the Committee and its hearings have typically been in the past.

Or will the Judiciary Committee actively and meaningfully question the nominee? Will the Senators make the effort to determine for themselves whether Justice Abdus-Salaam is as excellent a choice as the Governor claims? And yes, as her reputation suggests.

We'll be following those developments.
[Disclosure: I have made no bones about the fact that I support Justice Abdus-Salaam's nomination, and wish her well at the hearings and, then, as a Judge on New York's court of last resort.]