Despite the fact that over the past decade Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community has been one of New York City’s fastest growing populations, not even one Orthodox Jew has appeared during that time on the ballot for the New York State Supreme Court bench in Brooklyn.
We strongly believe it is time for that to change. First, some background.
One of the more popular mantras in the world of social theory is that the pool of those who make authoritative governmental decisions should reflect the diversity of the population. Decision-making informed by differences in race, color, creed and gender – sexual orientation was recently added to the list – has been viewed for some time now as a cornerstone of a just society.
(To be sure, many political leaders have often covertly controlled the selection process, seeing to it that people who resembled themselves found their way into government jobs – either directly or via tradeoffs with other leaders from different groups.)
For much of American history, judges were not commonly thought of in terms of any approach to diversity in government. After all, judges were supposed to simply apply the law according to the meaning of the statutory language. But it is now widely understood that judges do not operate in a vacuum and in fact draw on their own backgrounds and experiences in their work, not only when it comes to sentencing in criminal cases but also when parsing the very words of a law.
In addition, judges are called on to assess the bona fides of litigants’ requests as to religious requirements in terms of scheduling trials and other proceedings, or their explanations of why they may have been unable to fulfill a contractual commitment on a certain day. And judges are required to determine whether there have been willful violations of court orders and whether individuals are in contempt of court. Issues such as wearing a yarmulke or other religious garb in court are sometimes involved.
It is not widely understood that while judges are in strict control of the matters before them, they do interact with each other on general topics and Orthodox Jewish judges are able to fill in gaps in the experiences of their colleagues.
The judicial selection process in New York State at the Supreme Court level is not well known but it is crucial. In fact, the individuals who will run in the general elections in November are chosen at nominating conventions, held shortly after the regular primary elections, from a list of names submitted by local party district leaders under the leadership of the county leader. These candidates then run in the general election.
So, the key to this process are the actions of district leaders and the county leader. Moreover, given the overwhelming numerical superiority of Democrats over Republicans in places like Brooklyn, being chosen at a Democratic nominating convention is virtually tantamount to election.
In short, we call on the political leaders of the Democratic Party in Brooklyn on both the district and county levels to remedy the relative scarcity of Orthodox Jewish judges on the Supreme Court bench in Brooklyn.