WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court today agreed to review whether New York state’s method of picking trial judges violates the Constitution by giving too much power to political bosses.
Lower federal courts have ruled that the selection process, using political conventions instead of primaries to decide which candidates make the general election ballot, violates the First Amendment rights of candidates and voters.
The justices agreed without comment to consider the appeal from New York state election officials and the Democratic and Republican parties that the 1974 Supreme Court ruling American Party of Texas v. White allows states to choose between primaries and conventions for nominations to elected offices.
The case is expected to be argued in the fall.
Between 1990 and 2002, almost half the elections to the New York State Supreme Court were uncontested. Despite its name, the court is a trial court, not the state’s highest. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals called the elections “little more than ceremony” in upholding a challenge brought in 2004 by a watchdog group, the Brennan Center for Justice.
Critics have said the conventions are patronage-driven affairs in which allies of party leaders are rewarded with judgeships and all others shut out.
The state has defended the process as open and vigorously contested.
The Mid-Manhattan branch of the NAACP and a black lawyers’ association also asked the high court to intervene, saying that the conventions are needed to insure that minority candidates get elected.
The case is New York Board of Election v. Torres, 06-766.