Akin Gump Advises Petitioners In Supreme Court Victory

Friday, February 1, 2008 - 01:00

Representing the New York County Democratic Party in the U.S. Supreme Court case of New York State Board of Elections v. Lopez-Torres, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld lawyers led by Andrew Rossman of the New York office won a long-debated and hotly contested case regarding the way in which justices to the New York State Supreme Court (the trial court of general jurisdiction) are appointed. Other petitioners included the New York State Republican Committee, the New York State Board of Elections, the New York Attorney General and the Association of Justices of the State of New York. Amicus briefs were filed on behalf of the petitioners by a diverse group - the Republican National Committee, the NAACP's Mid-Manhattan branch, the Metropolitan Black Bar and the Asian American Bar Association of New York. The case reversed earlier opinions by both the Second Circuit and the district court.

The case involved a First Amendment challenge to New York's delegate-based convention system for selecting party nominees for the office of New York State Supreme Court Justice. Margarita Lopez-Torres, the lead plaintiff in the suit, alleged that Democratic Party leaders in Brooklyn obstructed her further progress after her election as a civil court judge when she would not hire people they recommended. Respondents, led by NYU's Brennan Center for Justice, contended that New York has a unique system that is dominated by party leaders rather than rank-and-file voters. The New York Constitution provides that "the justice of the supreme court shall be chosen by the electors of the judicial district in which they are to serve."

Petitioners contended that the system which New York's legislature adopted 86 years ago was specifically designed to replace expensive and unseemly primaries for judges and is a form of representative democracy within the bounds of the Constitution.

According to Andrew Rossman, "This victory is a complete vindication of New York's method of judicial selection, which for nearly a century has produced one of the nation's leading judiciaries. We are deeply gratified that a unanimous Supreme Court agrees with the New York State legislature, the New York Attorney General, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and the incumbent state court judges that New York's judicial convention system is perfectly constitutional."