A year into the tenure of New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, the court is “scrappier, more dividing and more liberal.”This assessment comes from an examination of rulings and court statistics by The New York Times’ William Glaberson.
Lippman was nominated by Gov. David Patterson to takeover for Judith Kaye, who, the article said, “prized unanimity.”
Lippman does not share that goal. “I am a result-oriented person,” he told the NYT, “and the result I am looking for is not necessarily unanimity.”
This provides an interesting parallel to the current Supreme Court. When Justice John Roberts joined, he professed a desire to achieve more unanimous opinions, and while he was successful in his earlier terms, the Court has become more and more divided, with 5-4 being the norm in politically charged cases.
A desire for unanimity raises an interesting question — obviously the goal is to be correct on the law, and while when there is a “right,” unanimity theoretically is easy, it of course does not work that way. Number one, they are difficult questions. And when answering difficult questions, people come out on different sides and judges should not compromise what they believe to be correct in order to get a unanimous vote.
Judge Kaye said she reached for unanimity when it was possible “without compromising principles” and that, “when there were disagreements” she would seek to “fold something into the majority opinion” to gain more votes.
Lippman approaches the issues differently: “Sometimes you have a choice,” he told the NYT. “You can compromise and get a unified court, or sometimes it’s better to have a divided court because you have decisions that are not fuzzy. You have bolder decisions.”
We do not think the issue of unanimity should weigh too heavily on judges. After all, it’s the majority opinion that stands, with few people noting the dissenters in the long run. But the divisiveness on courts, both state and federal, is unfortunately an example of the overall partisanship of the country.
Read the full NYT article here.
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