By George K. Arthur, Joe Davis and Warren Galloway
On Nov. 4, voters will elect five State Supreme Court justices. State Supreme Court is the trial court with the broadest jurisdiction. All types of cases can be brought before the court, except cases involving claims against the state, which must be heard in the Court of Claims. The judicial composition of the court should reflect the broad ethnicity of the approximate 1 million citizens that it serves.
According to the Unified Court System’s website, there are 29 trial justices on the State Supreme Court in the Eighth Judicial District. Only two of the justices are minority, one African-American female and one Native American male. There are no minority justices on the Court of Claims, no minority judges on any court on any level in the district outside of Erie County and only one African-American male judge on the county level in Erie County. Buffalo City Court has five minority judges out of 13; the largest number of minority judges outside of New York City. However, no minority judges serve on the 10 other city courts and no minority judges serve on any of the 197 town and village courts in the Eighth Judicial District.
The decision regarding whom the candidates will be for this year’s five judicial seats will be made by the chairmen of the political parties, who control the delegates to the judicial conventions. When the Democratic and Republican Party chairmen consort to endorse the same candidate, they ensure that candidate’s election to a 14-year term. Cross-endorsing judicial candidates has been done many times in the past.
Since the political bosses determine whom the State Supreme Court justices will be, we must insist that they cross-endorse two minority candidates. Cross-endorsing two minority candidates for the five seats is the only way to ensure inclusion and minority representation on the trial bench. All of the minority judges currently serving on all courts outside of Buffalo City Court were cross-endorsed for the seats that they hold today.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. If diversity and inclusion evidence justice, when we exercise our right to vote for State Supreme Court judge, will it be a vote for diversity and inclusion or continued exclusion?
George K. Arthur is a former Buffalo Common Council member. Joe Davis and Warren Galloway are concerned citizens.