THE BLOG
10/07/2013 01:40 pm ET | Updated Dec 07, 2013

Wisdom Required

This November 5th millions of New York State residents will be going to their voting booths to vote in various municipal and county elections. In New York City, for example, there are city-wide elections for mayor, comptroller and public advocate. These are all important races and as with any election we as voters need to make sure we actually go to the polls to vote. When we get to the polls this November, in addition to any candidate elections, New Yorkers will be voting on six proposed constitutional amendments. These items generally appear as wordy paragraphs in really small print on our ballots and we often either forget to vote on them or ignore them. We can't do that this November.

The first of the six proposed amendments is Proposal One, which will authorize casino gaming. As we approach Election Day over the next few weeks, many voters will get information on this proposal; after all, everyone generally believes in a dollar and a dream. Also on the ballot will be Proposal Six which seeks to increase the age until which certain state court judges can serve. This proposal really matters to the administration of justice throughout the state of New York.

We all have heard the expression that good judges are hard to find. It is very true. Moreover, once we find them we need to be able to keep them on the bench. Proposal Six is designed to do just that. Currently, New York State's Constitution mandates judicial retirement at age 70. This age limit was fixed in the state's constitution back in 1869. Today, as a result of medicine, exercise and better living conditions we know that 70 is the new 50, if you will. Additionally, the U.S. Census Bureau data, among other sources has indicated that life expectancy has increased across the population.

Proposal Six will allow Justices of the State Supreme Court, the major trial court, who reach 70 years of age to continue to serve as active justices upon certification for up to five two-year terms expanding on the current limit of three two-year terms. The amendment would thereby allow justices to serve at least until the age of 80. Likewise, for judges of our highest state court, the Court of Appeals, the amendment would allow the judges to serve out any term on the Court commenced before they reach 70, subject only to the requirement that they must step off the bench on the date their 14 year term ends or the last day of the year in which they turn 80, whichever is sooner.

Proposal Six, by the way, does not set up a situation where judges who are not medically fit, are allow to remain in service. Proposal Six will still require that State Supreme Court Judges who reach the age of 70 be certified for medical fitness and necessity. Nor will Proposal Six limit the ability of new judges being elected or appointed to serve. Under the law, once a judge becomes certified, a position as a State Supreme Court Judge becomes available to be filled through the elective process.

Proposal Six likewise, will not affect the growing trends in seeking to diversify the state courts. The Brennan Center for Justice put out a study in 2010 addressing the manner in which states could improve upon diversifying its judiciary. Their report published a set of best practices which the Brennan Center's Fair Courts Project continues to monitor. More recently, Stephen P. Younger, who had, until June of this year, served as counsel for New York's Commission on Judicial Nominations indicated in various reports that one of his best achievements was in helping to create a system that allowed for a more diverse candidate pool in filling vacancies on New York's highest court.

Socrates, the classical Greek philosopher, said, "Four things belong to a judge: to hear courteously, to answer wisely, to consider soberly, and to decide impartially." Practically speaking these are attributes that come with age. This is one of the reasons why being a judge generally comes later in one's legal career. To be one of those good judges, you must have the wisdom and patience that only time can achieve. As an old African proverb says, "wisdom does not come overnight." Equal Justice requires a diverse bench with good Judges who are not forced to stop serving just because they have reached the well-cured age of 70. On Election Day, November 5th, go to the polls, vote and don't stop voting until you have voted on Proposed Constitutional Amendment Six on the New York State Election Ballot.

Michael A. Hardy, Esq. is General Counsel and Executive Vice-President to National Action Network (NAN). He has been involved in many of this nation's highest profiled cases involving violations of civil or human rights. He continues to supervise National Action Network's crisis unit and hosts a monthly free legal clinic at NAN New York City's House of Justice.