Janet DiFiore, New York’s top judge, to step down Aug. 31

DiFiore was confirmed by the state Senate in February 2016, and would have reached the Court of Appeals’ mandatory retirement age of 70 in 2025. She oversaw a court that, despite being made up entirely of Democratic appointmentees, was far more moderate than the branch, which has generally become more progressive in recent years.

One of the most significant decisions of DiFiore’s term came three months ago, when she wrote the majority opinion overturning New York’s Democrat-drawn congressional and state Senate lines ruling, the state Legislature didn’t follow the proper procedures for drawing the districts after a non -partisan panel failed to reach consensus.

Her opinion also found Democrats unconstitutionally gerrymandered the congressional lines to their benefit.

The ruling led to new lines, less favorable to Democrats, that were drawn by a court-appointed special master, along with a primary election shuffle that saw the congressional and Senate races pushed back to August from June.

Now, Hochul will soon accept applicants for the pending opening, after which point the state commission on Judicial Nomination will present her with finalists.

From there, Hochul will pick a replacement subject to state Senate confirmation. That won’t happen until January, when the Legislature is due back in Albany, unless Hochul calls lawmakers back to the Capitol sooner.

In a statement, Hochul praised DiFiore for her management of the court system during the COVID-19 pandemic, which hugely disrupted the normal, in-person operations of the judicial branch.

“I thank Judge DiFiore for her years of service and look forward to reviewing the recommendations of the Commission on Judicial Nomination as we work to appoint a new leadership to the Court,” Hochul said.

Within hours of DiFiore’s resignation, top lawmakers and advocates were urging Hochul to pick a progressive-leaning chief judge as a way to combat the Court of Appeals’ moderate-to-conservative leaning side.

“In light of recent US Supreme Court decisions and now news of the New York Chief Judge stepping down, it is more important than ever that Governor Hochul nominates and the Senate confirms a progressive chief judge,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie tweeted.

State Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the Court of Appeals has become “increasingly out of touch” with New Yorkers on issues like criminal justice and tenants’ rights.

“I’m resolute that the Chief Judge’s replacement must be a jurist who will lead our Court of Appeals in a much-needed course correction that uplifts the vulnerable and ensures equity and justice for all,” he said.

This story has been updated with additional comment.

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