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Push For Gay Judge On New York Bench

Deborah Glick
Deborah Glick

New York’s first openly gay state legislator says it’s time to appoint an LGBT person to the state’s highest court.

When Assemblywoman Deborah Glick was first elected to her job nearly a quarter century ago, she was the first state lawmaker to publicly disclose that she’s a lesbian. Back then, there was no same-sex marriage, and there was not even a law against discriminating against New Yorkers based on their sexual orientation.

Glick helped that law get passed in 2002. Now, she says, with two vacancies on the state’s highest court, it’s time for Governor Cuomo, who championed the legalization of gay marriage in the state in 2011, to appoint a member of the LGBT community to the Court of Appeals.

“Representing the full diversity of  New York State, it would be appropriate to have an openly LGBT jurist on the Court of Appeals,” Glick said.

Assemblywoman Glick says a gay, lesbian or transgender judge would bring their own life experiences with them to the court, as do all other judges, and could provide greater diversity. She says especially now, as gays and lesbians gain more rights, there are related legal questions involving adoption, child custody and divorce, that still need to be worked out in the courts.

“There are issues that impact LGBT families that come before the court and they are not easy,” she said. “The discussion ought to include someone who has that as a life experience.”

In an op-ed article in the Albany Times Union earlier this summer,  Glick writes that only seven states have named LGBT jurists to their high courts, and no state has a gay or lesbian chief judge.

Governor Andrew Cuomo will pick two more judges for the seven-member court before the end of the year. The chief judge, Jonathan Lippmann, appointed by former Governor David Paterson, reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 later this year. Judge Susan Read, who was appointed by former Governor George Pataki, has decided to leave in the 12th year of her 14-year term.

Glick says she’s not backing anyone specifically, but she says there are several openly gay judges in lower courts across the state, and at least one has been mentioned for a federal judgeship. At least one gay candidate has been mentioned in the past for a seat on the state’s highest court, and appeared on a list of semifinalists in 2014.  Daniel Alter is currently general counsel for the Cuomo’s Department of Financial Services.

To critics who might say there’s too much identity politics in making these types of decisions, Glick says the public is more willing to accept court rulings as fair if they feel the judges reflect the society.

Assemblywoman Glick says she hasn’t talked to Cuomo yet about her proposal, but she says she did tell his staff she was writing the newspaper article. She says she believes Cuomo, who has made diversity a priority in the past, could take the opportunity to be leader by appointing a gay jurist to the Court of Appeals.

The President of the New York State Bar Association David Miranda did not endorse Glick's proposal specifically, but says his group has always supported a wide range of views on the court.

“We support diversity of all kinds, whether  it be gender or ethnicity or sexual preference,” said Miranda, who says his group filed a brief in favor of same-sex marriage.  

The Bar Association traditionally rates candidates for the Court of Appeals chosen by the state’s Commission on Judicial Nomination, which is headed by the state’s first woman chief judge, former Judge Judith Kaye. Miranda says in the end, though, candidates are most closely scrutinized for their potential judicial abilities and legal experience and background.

Governor Cuomo has already appointed three women to the court; one is an Hispanic and one is the court’s first African American and Muslim judge. By the end of 2015,  Cuomo will have chosen all but one of the high court’s seven judges. Judge Eugene Piggott, who was also appointed by former Governor Pataki, reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 2016 and must leave the bench.

“This Governor has a proud record of promoting diversity and – as evidenced by his previous Court of Appeals nominations – selecting well-qualified judges with varied backgrounds and experiences. We look forward to reviewing the selections from the Commission on Judicial Nomination,” said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi in a statement. 

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