New York Supreme Court
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|New York State Unified Court System|
The Supreme Court of the State of New York is the trial-level court of general jurisdiction in the state court system of New York, United States. There is a branch of the New York Supreme Court in each of New York State's 62 counties. Counties with small populations share justices. For administrative purposes, one or more counties are allocated to judicial districts, with each of the five boroughs of New York City being in its own district, the only such counties in the state. There are 13 judicial districts.
- 1 Name
- 2 Terminology
- 3 New York Supreme Court and other trial courts
- 4 Appellate Division
- 5 Court of Appeals
- 6 Appealability
- 7 Court houses
- 8 Notable past New York Supreme Court justices
- 9 Elections
- 10 Assignments
- 11 U.S. Supreme Court case
- 12 Miscellany
- 13 References
- 14 Further reading
- 15 External links
In most states of the United States, and in the U.S. federal court system, "Supreme Court" is the name of the highest court. The New York Supreme Court, however, is the main trial court, equivalent to a superior court in another state. The reason is that, in common-law jurisdictions, “Supreme Court” is not always the name of the highest court. There are 41 Supreme Courts and Supreme Courts of Judicature with general original jurisdiction.
The oldest Supreme Court with general original jurisdiction is the New York Supreme Court. It was established on May 6, 1691, by the Colony of New York, as the Supreme Court of Judicature. That court was continued by the State of New York, when state independence was achieved in 1775. The original name, Supreme Court of Judicature, was changed to Supreme Court by the New York Constitutional Convention of 1846.
The New York Supreme Court has a trial unit, which is not formally called the “Trial Division.” Also, the New York Supreme Court has an appellate unit, which is formally called the “Appellate Division.”
The highest court of the State of New York is the Court of Appeals.
The New York Supreme Court uses "part" where some other states might use "department". Also, "term" is used where some other state might use "division".
A judge of the New York Supreme Court is titled "justice".
For example, an accused person, who allegedly committed a crime in Scarsdale, Westchester County, New York, would be tried in the Criminal Term of the New York Supreme Court, Westchester County, Part 9, before Supreme Court Justice James Russels.
New York Supreme Court and other trial courts
Under the New York State Constitution, the New York State Supreme Court has unlimited jurisdiction in both civil and criminal cases, with the exception of certain monetary claims against the State of New York itself. In practice, the Supreme Court hears civil actions involving claims above a certain monetary amount (for example, $25,000 in New York City) that puts the claim beyond the jurisdiction of lower courts. Civil actions about lesser sums are heard by courts of limited jurisdiction, such as the Civil Court of the City of New York, or the County, City, District, or Justice (town or village) courts outside New York City. With respect to criminal cases, the Criminal Branch of Supreme Court tries felony cases in the five counties of New York City. Misdemeanor cases, and arraignments in almost all cases, are handled by lower courts: the New York City Criminal Court, by the District Court in Nassau County, and by the District Court in the five western towns of Suffolk County. The least criminal cases are heard by Town Courts, City Courts and Village Courts.
The Supreme Court also hears cases involving claims for equitable relief, such as injunctions, specific performance, or rescission of a contract, as well as actions for a declaratory judgment. The Supreme Court also has exclusive jurisdiction of matrimonial actions, such as either contested or uncontested actions for a divorce or annulment). The court also has exclusive jurisdictions against proceedings against a body or officer seeking to overturn an official determination on the grounds that it was arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable or contrary to law. Those suits are provided for in Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules, which supersedes the common-law writs of mandamus, prohibition, and certiorari.
Certain types of matters are handled by specialized New York state courts. These include the Surrogate's Court, which handles the estates of deceased persons, including probate matters. While the Supreme Court theoretically has concurrent jurisdiction in these cases, as a practical matter it would not exercise that jurisdiction. The Family Court hears juvenile delinquency proceedings and some cases involving child support, among other matters. Tort and contract claims against the State of New York are heard in the Court of Claims.
The first appellate court of the State of New York is the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division. It is intermediate between the New York Supreme Court and the New York Court of Appeals.
There is one Appellate Division. For administrative purposes, there are four departments. Two or more counties are allocated to a department.
A decision by the Appellate Division is binding on all lower courts.
Court of Appeals
The second appellate court of New York State is the Court of Appeals. It is the highest state court.
A decision by the Court of Appeals binds all lower courts.
More than 4,000,000 civil actions and criminal cases are filed in all New York State courts each year. In theory, many litigants have one appeal of right. Actually, many civil actions and criminal cases are not appealable. Perhaps an appeal is not worth the time, money and effort. It may be that the trial judge got it right, so there's no mistake that would lead an appellate court to change the result. Of all civil actions and criminal cases heard annually by the Appellate Division, perhaps 150-200 a year are reviewed by the Court of Appeals.
There are court houses for the New York Supreme Court throughout the state. In each county, one or more buildings serve as court houses.
Example 1: In Kings County, court rooms for civil actions, heard by the New York Supreme Court, are at 360 Adams Street, Brooklyn. Court rooms for criminal cases are at 320 Jay Street, Brooklyn.
Example 2: In Schoharie County, all court rooms for the New York Supreme Court are at 290 Main Street, Schoharie.
Notable past New York Supreme Court justices
- Henry Brockholst Livingston (1757 – 1823)
- Benjamin N. Cardozo (1870 – 1938)
- Gerald Garson (born 1938)
- Irving Lehman (1876 - 1945)
- Samuel Leibowitz (1893 - 1978)
- Edmund H. Lewis (1884 - 1972)
- Sol Wachtler (born 1930)
- Robert F. Wagner (1877 - 1953)
- John Carro (born 1927)
New York Supreme Court justices are elected to 14-year terms. In practice, most of the power of selecting justices belongs to local political party organizations. Sometimes, the parties cross-endorse each other's candidates, while at other times they do not and incumbent judges must actively campaign for re-election.
A Supreme Court Justice's term ends, even if the 14-year term has not yet expired, at the end of the calendar year in which he reach the age of 70. However, an elected Supreme Court Justice may obtain certification to continue in office, without having to be re-elected, for three two-year periods, until final retirement at the end of the year in which the Justice turns 76. These additional six years of service are available only for elected Supreme Court Justices, not for "Acting" Justices whose election or appointments were to lower courts.
In many counties, the number of New York Supreme Court justices is fewer than the number of needed justices. For that reason, judges of the New York City Civil Court, New York City Criminal Court, New York Family Court, and New York Court of Claims are designated as Acting Supreme Court Justices.
U.S. Supreme Court case
In February, 2006, a United States District Court judge in Brooklyn declared that the judicial-convention method, of nominating New York Supreme Court justices, was contrary to the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Judge John Gleeson stated: "A state may decide whether or not voters will be the best choosers of judges. But it may not say one thing – 'The justices of the supreme court shall be chosen by the electors,' N.Y. Const. art. VI § 6(c) – and do quite another, as they have here by effectively transferring the power to choose to major party leaders. Put simply ... the state may not pass off the will of the party leaders as the will of the people. Because that is exactly what the New York judicial convention system does, it violates the First Amendment."
In late August, 2006, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit unanimously affirmed Judge Gleeson’s ruling, which mandated open primaries until the state legislature builds a new system. There was a stay, however, so the judicial-convention method was used for the 2006 election.
In the unanimous opinion handed down on January 16, 2008, N.Y. State Bd. of Elections v. Lopez Torres, written by Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, the U.S. Supreme Court found the judicial-convention method constitutional. Nonetheless, Associate Justices Stevens and Kennedy expressed their dislike of the system.
- The New York Supreme Court possesses the Deed of Gift of the America's Cup, a document written by George L. Schuyler. The Deed of Gift sets forth the rules for America’s Cup races, including how races are run and how challenges are raised. A dispute about acts and omissions governed by the Deed of Gift is heard by the New York Supreme Court.
- The inscription on the facade of the New York Supreme Court court house in New York County is a quotation from a letter written by George Washington to the Attorney General in 1789: "The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government." On February 16, 2009, the New York Post reported that the word "true" was actually penned by Washington as "due", according to documents at the Library of Congress and the National Archives and Records Administration.
- New York Post (2009-02-16). "George Denied His Due".
- Galie, Peter J. and Bopst, Christopher, The New York State Constitution (2nd ed. 2012)
- Lincoln, Charles Z., The Constitutional History of New York from the Beginning of the Colonial Period to the Year 1905 (1906)
- State of New York, Department of State, New York Constitution 
- The Historical Society of the Courts of the State of New York