Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wants to speed up the process of replacing the late Sheila Abdus-Salaam on the Court of Appeals to avoid the possibility of the state’s highest court operating short-handed for months.
Cuomo wants to be able to forward a nomination in June so that the state Senate potentially can confirm his choice before the scheduled end of the regular 2017 legislative session, set for June 21. That means shortening the judicial screening process by about two months.
“The Senate leaves at the end of June and doesn’t come back till January, basically,” Cuomo said Friday. “That means if they confirm someone by June, the court will have an empty seat till January . . . I think it would put the court at a significant disability if they have a vacancy that long.”
Abdus-Salaam, 65, a pioneering judge who became the first black woman to serve on the Court of Appeals, was found dead in the Hudson River in early April in what police are calling an apparent suicide. Investigators have said there were no signs of foul play.
After a lengthy career, Abdus-Salaam had reached the top of New York’s legal system when Cuomo appointed her to the Court of Appeals in 2013. Cuomo called her death “terrible and sad and shocking.” Her death leaves the court with six sitting judges.
The Commission on Judicial Nomination, the screening committee for filling posts on the state Court of Appeals, had announced it would accept applications through May 19. The commission, per state law, reviews and interviews candidates, then submits up to seven potential nominees to the governor, who selects one.
The commission said it intended to present Cuomo with a field of candidates no later than Aug. 15, effectively meaning that the governor wouldn’t be able to nominate someone till September. A commission attorney didn’t immediately comment Friday.