Judges of the New York Court of Appeals listen to arguments in White Plains in April, with the date each was confirmed by the Senate, from left: Judges Michael Garcia (Feb. 8, 2016), Leslie Stein (Feb. 9, 2015), Jenny Rivera (Feb. 11, 2013), Chief Judge Janet DiFiore (Jan. 21, 2016), Eugene Fahey (Feb. 9, 2015) and Rowan Wilson (Feb. 6, 2017). (David Handschuh/NYLJ)
When I was appointed to the Court of Appeals, I was the seventh in a short period chosen by Gov. Mario Cuomo. It set the stage for a lighthearted exchange at a press conference when he publicly presented my appointment. He was very proud of having filled seven seats on the court, and was prepared for the inevitable question as to my political affiliation that memorable Jan. 5, 1987 morning. Gleefully grinning, he answered the expected inquiry from a reporter: “None,” adding something like “How’s that for a non-partisan court? I’ve appointed three Republicans, three Democrats, and now one Independent!” Remarkably, that seven-member constituency of the court remained unchanged for almost six continuous years.
As to institutional memory, Judge Sol Wachtler, whom Cuomo appointed chief judge in 1985, brought the longest judicial tenure and continuity, going back to his election to the court in 1972 and his service under the outstanding and long leadership years under Chief Judges Stanley Fuld and Charles Breitel. My appointment added a distinct component of institutional history related to my service as chief clerk and counsel at the Court of Appeals from 1975 to 1983 and as chief administrative judge from 1985 to 1987.
A final, overarching note—over Memorial Day weekend, I had occasion to visit and chat with Justice Anthony Kennedy while visiting my daughter’s family in the Washington-Virginia area. He reminded me that he, too, was appointed in 1987, thus having attained 30 years on the U.S. Supreme Court. Thus, by sharp contrast, the service from just one justice to that court constitutes almost 10 times more than the 18 months average of the present members of the state Court of Appeals that was reported in your noteworthy feature article (NYLJ, June 5).
Joseph W. Bellacosa
The writer is a retired New York Court of Appeals judge