I write in response to a January 12, 2018 letter written by recently appointed Supreme Court Justice Ruth Shillingford. In her letter, she contends that Governor Cuomo “did not see fit to recognize the importance of racial diversity” in the court system, because he did not fill two openings for presiding appellate justices with black judges. That argument, however, is belied by the basic facts and directly contradicted by the governor’s actual record.
Here are the facts:
First, Governor Cuomo has appointed more diverse judges to the bench than any other governor in the history of the state. Utilizing a well-established judicial screening and vetting process, more than 60 percent of his judicial appointments have been racial and ethnic minorities and women. He is the first and only governor to appoint black judges to every single appellate division in the state—from Buffalo to Queens and from Brooklyn to Westchester. Further, two of the three black judges who were considered for presiding justices were in fact appointed to the Appellate Division by this governor.
Second, Governor Cuomo has not only worked to diversify the Appellate Division but also the state’s highest court—the Court of Appeals. He appointed to the court the first black woman, the first openly LGBT person and the first Hispanic man. Further, in 2017, the Court had for the first time in its 150-year history two black jurists sitting simultaneously—both appointed by the governor.
Third, Governor Cuomo’s vision of and commitment to diversity extends beyond the judiciary. He appointed the first black man to serve as counsel to the Governor, the first Hispanic man to serve as the state budget director, the first woman to serve as Secretary to the Governor and the list goes on.
Individuals may have their preferences for appointments to judicial positions. But to suggest that two appointments for specific departments, with specific needs, signifies that the governor does not support diversity, (1) ignores the public record; (2) undermines the tremendous investment we have made in diversifying government; and (3) marginalizes the well-established process the governor has used to appoint so many qualified, diverse judges to the bench.
As lawyers, we must be driven by the facts.
Alphonso David is counsel to the governor.