Dozens of advocacy groups and state lawmakers are urging Gov. Kathy Hochul to nominate someone with a public defender background to sit on the state's top court.
The hope from the organizations, which include local-level groups as well as the Demand Justice, Release Aging People in Prison and the Working Families Party, is a judge with public defender experience could be more sympathetic understanding to low-income people.
"Diversity on the bench is critical to the strength and legitimacy of the judiciary, and diversity of experience is essential to creating a system that fairly addresses each litigant’s circumstances," the groups wrote in a letter being sent this week to Hochul.
Hochul, who took office in August, will make the first nomination to the court by selecting a replacement for Judge Eugene Fahey and is subject to confirmation by the state Senate. The current court is composed entirely of nominees of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Court of Appeals nominations are typically low-key affairs in Albany, though the court itself remains a dominant institution in state government, deciding cases that could have a wide-ranging impact on New Yorkers' lives and businesses.
But the nomination process has taken on more significance in recent months from progressive lawmakers and advocates as Hochul makes her first selection for the court and has taken on an unusual level of interest.
One of Cuomo's final nominees, Judge Madeline Singas, stirred some concerns among criminal justice reform advocates given her previous job as the Nassau County district attorney.
The groups pointed to the effect a judge with a public defender resume has had on the federal bench and how the Biden administration has sought a "greater balance" in nominations.
"Lawyers from underrepresented legal backgrounds have spent their careers developing an in-depth understanding of the legal needs of everyday people and therefore are particularly equipped to understand the experiences of each litigant before them, to recognize the disparate burdens that laws often place on people who are living with low incomes or are otherwise marginalized, and to render informed decisions, including on civil and human rights and economic justice," the letter states.
On Monday, 12 members of the state Senate openly urged Hochul to nominate either Timothy Murphy and Corey Stoughton for the seat, pointing to their experience with indigent defense.
The lawmakers, including state Sens. Mike Gianaris, Jessica Ramos and Brad Hoylman, in a letter to Hochul, wrote that a "diversity of thought and experience" should be a key factor.
"For too long, appointments to the judiciary have primarily served those who wield the most power," the lawmakers wrote. "Now, you have a historic opportunity to alter that paradigm by choosing a judge with a demonstrated appreciation for the impact of the law on our state’s most vulnerable."
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the number of lawmakers signing onto a letter. There are 12 lawmakers.