As it stands now, the State Constitution hampers our judiciary at every turn, and imposes limitations that do not serve to ensure the delivery of justice, do not serve to protect the innocent, and certainly do nothing to promote efficiency in our courts. We need a long term solution, to the systemic issues that tie our legislature's hands behind its back, and imposes outdated and inefficient limitations on our courts system.
When we consider the complexity of the Federal Courts System, and realize that the United States Constitution has only three sections in the Judiciary Article, and of those sections one deals exclusively with treason, it becomes clear that Article VI of the New York State Constitution, with 37 sections addressing issues ranging from the structural to the mundane, is unnecessarily long. The problem with this is that any change to the Judiciary that addresses any of these issues must be done through constitutional amendment. Take the proposed amendment to let justices serve until they are 80. Is this an issue that is so fundamental that it requires a vote be put to the people of New York State? I certainly don’t think so. By setting the bar for change at constitutional amendment, we are all but ensuring that change cannot occur, and in the rare instances where it does, it is so minute as to be meaningless.
Another example of this is in Article VI,§6d. This is the subsection which sets the number of judges that can sit at any given time on the Supreme Court (New York’s Court of General Jurisdiction). The Constitution sets that number at one justice per 50,000 people, and sets the minimum number of Justices at the levels they were when the article was ratified. The issue with this is that the workload of the Supreme Court of New York has increased so drastically that for decades the Legislature has been taking advantage of a loophole rather than addressing the systemic issues in Article VI. Since the Constitution allows for a Court of Claims judge to sit “temporarily” on the Supreme Court, there has been an entire class of Court of Claims judges that do nothing but act as Supreme Court Judges. Many of these Court of Claims judges go their entire career without ever hearing a case in the Court of claims. When the best option to making the judiciary function is an end run around the State Constitution, something needs to change.
Another example is that the jurisdictions of the lower courts with regards to civil claims have been set by monetary values. This cannot be changes, save for through constitutional amendment, but the value of money changes constantly, and over time, drastically. The effect of this is that more and more cases must be heard in higher and higher courts, the same courts that have a constitutionally fixed number of judges. The issue does not seem to rise to the level of a constitutional question though. The higher courts already have the ability to send cases down to the lower courts, regardless of the monetary amount of the suit.
Article VI of the New York Constitution needs work, either through a series of targeted amendments, or a complete overhaul.