New York Supreme Court

Current partisan makeup % Justices of Color
6D-1R 57
Justice Party Term Expiration Mandatory Retirement
Rowan D. Wilson D 2030 2030
Jenny Rivera D 2035 2030
Michael J. Garcia R 2030 2031
Madeline Singas D 2035 2036
Anthony Cannataro D 2035 2035
Shirley Troutman D 2029 2029
Caitlin Halligan D 2036 2036

As the state’s court of last resort, the New York Court of Appeals can serve either as a means of helping New Yorkers maintain and expand their rights or of eroding them. Over the course of the court’s history, it has delivered critical decisions, both beneficial and harmful, affecting democracy, education, the environment, LGBTQ+ rights, criminal justice reform, and more.

Why New York Matters

In recent years, the New York Court of Appeals has delivered critical decisions impacting democracy in this state. One of the court’s most notable contemporary cases was Harkenrider v. Hochul, a 2022 case involving redistricting. In this decision, the court decided that redistricting maps created by the state legislature were unconstitutional as they did not originate from New York’s Independent Redistricting Commission as required by the state constitution. The commission also favored the Democratic party, violating the New York Constitution’s explicit ban on partisan gerrymandering. These redistricting policies were established through a state ballot initiative in 2014. By standing against unconstitutional maps, the New York Court of Appeals adhered to the wishes of New York voters and defended the sanctity of local democracy.

The court has a long history of supporting educational equity. Starting with the 1982 case of [case], the court held that although the state constitution did not ensure a right to equal spending per pupil across districts, it did mandate that the state of New York provide all its students with a “sound basic education.” This case also questioned the equitability and constitutionality of the state’s public school funding system. This system was interrogated once again in [case], a 1995 case where the plaintiffs argued that New York’s property tax-based school funding system allowed “property-rich” districts to have more financial resources than “property-poor” districts, thus giving their students access to a better quality of education in violation of the state constitution’s Education Article. This echoed the arguments used in Levittown. This time, the Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, saying “That [Education] Article requires the State to offer all children the opportunity of a sound basic education.” This marked a victory for the educational equity movement. Since then, the New York Court of Appeals has issued several decisions regarding equitable school funding. In two other cases also entitled Campaign for Fiscal Equity V. State, one in and the other in [case], the court reaffirmed their earlier decisions and added that the State must offer children an education that prepares them to be civically engaged citizens. In the 2006 decision, the court also advocated for an additional $2 billion in public school funding. For decades, this court has fought for the well-being of economically disadvantaged students and their right to a quality, well-funded education.

The New York Court of Appeals has also made critical decisions to protect the local environment. In the 2021 case of Protect the Adirondacks! Inc. v. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the court ruled that the Cuomo administration’s plan to turn the state Forest Preserve in the Adirondack Mountains into a series of snowmobile trails was unconstitutional, preventing environmental destruction in the area. They cited the state constitution’s “forever wild” provision, which protects state-owned lands labeled as Forest Preserves, allowing them to remain as “wild forest lands.” Decisions made by the New York Court of Appeals have not only benefited the people within the state but have also served to maintain the local environment.

The LGBTQIA+ community has also been directly affected by decisions made by this court. One of the most notable queer rights cases heard by this court was People v. Onofre, in which the Court ruled that the state’s anti-sodomy law was unconstitutional. Using federal precedents established in Griswold v. Connecticut and Stanley v. Georgia, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that this law violated the right to privacy of same-sex couples engaging in consensual sexual activity. This was a landmark case for LGBTQ+ rights in New York as it disposed of a centuries-old law preventing same-sex couples from legally expressing the full extent of their love. In the 2006 case of Debra H. v. Janice R. the plaintiff (Debra H.) fought for parental rights over a child that she and her same-sex partner had parented for two years before their separation. The NY Court of Appeals ruled that Debra was legally a parent to the child even though she was not their biological or adoptive mother, as her civil union to the child’s biological mother awarded her rights to parentage. It should be noted, however, that this ruling did not overturn the previous ruling of Alison D. v. Virginia M., where the court held that non-biological and non-adoptive parents did not have the legal right to seek custody or visitation rights. Either way, Debra H. was an important case for LGBTQ+ rights as it recognized that parentage was not exclusive to married couples, giving same-sex couples in civil unions rights over their children before the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York in 2011. Not all the decisions made by this court have been in favor of the queer community. One such court case is Daniel Hernandez v Victor L. Robles. In this case, the plaintiffs consisted of 44 same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses and at the time were not protected by state law. The Court of Appeals held that “the New York Constitution does not compel recognition of marriages between members of the same sex,” denying same-sex couples the unequivocal right to marriage in New York.

The court has a history of ruling in favor of law enforcement when they abuse their authority. One such case is People v. Heiserman, in which the defendant (Michael Heiserman) was pepper sprayed by a police officer after simply refusing to take off his footwear. The Court ruled that this instance did not constitute excessive use of force, upholding law enforcement’s ability to use violence against individuals who do not comply with trivial orders. In another case, entitled People v. Marc Mitchell, the defendant was an unhoused man who stood in Times Square asking pedestrians for money to “Help the Homeless,” with most of the funds going to himself. The police arrested him for “fraudulent accosting” upon learning that most of the money would be going to Mitchell in particular. The Court upheld this charge, making it easier for police to criminalize the impoverished and unhoused. In People v. Blandford, the defendant was subjected to a canine car search in a lawfully parked vehicle because police suspected he was involved in a drug deal. This suspicion arose out of an interaction that Blandford (a suspected drug dealer) had with someone involving a hug and a handshake. Despite only giving consent to search parts of the car’s interior, the officer used his drug-detection dog to search the exterior of the car and found marijuana. Despite this search being nonconsensual, The NY Court of Appeals once again ruled in favor of the police, saying there was “record support” for the idea of Blandford engaging in criminal activity and further the ability of police to unlawfully harass individuals.

The Court of Appeals has also made decisions regarding access to justice. In People v. Garcia, the court decided that Cesar Garcia was not entitled to a jury trial even though he faced the possibility of deportation due to his immigration status.

Thankfully, not every decision made by the court regarding the criminal justice system has been negative. In People v. Baines, the defendant attempted to represent himself in court and was eventually convicted and sentenced to 50 years in prison. He was given vague warnings suggesting that was not an optimum decision. Throughout this process, Baines was never accessed to see if he was knowingly and voluntarily waiving his right to counsel. As such, he appealed this case and argued that he was deprived of his right to counsel as the court did not take the necessary precautions to ensure his waiver of those rights was lawful. In the end, the NY Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court did not properly inform Baines of the “disadvantages of self-representation,” thus safeguarding the right to counsel.

The New York Court of Appeals routinely makes decisions that directly affect the everyday lives of individuals in New York. From advocating for equitable school funding to allowing the criminalization of unhoused people at the hands of police, this Court has made critical rulings to the benefit and detriment of New Yorkers. Citizens of this state have a vested interest in paying attention to the proceedings of this court and holding its judges accountable when they make decisions that go against the will of the people.

Selection Method

Judges of the New York Court of Appeals are selected through the assisted appointment method. The state’s Judicial Nominating Commission submits a list of recommendations to the governor, who nominates a candidate from that list. The nominee must be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and then confirmed by a vote of the full New York State Senate. If confirmed, judges on the New York Court of Appeals serve for fourteen-year terms. They must be renominated by the governor and reconfirmed by the Senate if they wish to serve a second term. Judges are mandated to retire the year they turn 70 years old. Retired judges may still serve until they reach the age of 76, provided they are certified as competent every two years.

If an unexpected vacancy occurs, the seat is filled through the assisted appointment method, with the interim appointment following the same procedures as the typical selection method.

Current Justices on the Court

Rowan D. Wilson, Chief Judge

Judge Rowan D. Wilson was nominated by Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) to serve a 14-year term on the New York Court of Appeals in January 2017 and was confirmed by the New York State Senate that February. In April 2023, following the retirement of former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, Wilson was nominated to serve as Chief Judge by current NY Governor Kathy Hochul (D). He was confirmed by the state senate that same month. His term ends December 31st, 2030, which will coincide with his mandatory retirement date.

Legal Career

  • After graduating from Harvard Law School, Wilson served for two years as a law clerk for Hon. James R. Browning. He worked in private practice with Cravath, Swaine, & Moore, where he engaged in antitrust, intellectual property, securities fraud, and civil rights litigation. He also headed the form’s pro bono practice and represented the firm as a trustee of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Finally, prior to his initial appointment, Wilson was also the chair of Neighborhood Defender Services of Harlem, representing impoverished clients.

Jenny Rivera, Judge

Judge Jenny Rivera was nominated by Governor Andrew Cuomo to the New York Court of Appeals in January 2013 to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick. She was confirmed by the New York State Senate in February 2013. Her term will end in 2027 and she will reach the state’s mandatory retirement age of 70 in 2030.

Legal Career

  • Upon graduation from NYU School of Law, Rivera clerked at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. She then worked as a staff attorney for the NYC Legal Aid Society, representing unhoused families, and later served as counsel at the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund until 1992. After working as an Administrative Law Judge for the New York State Division of Human Rights and getting her L.L.M from Columbia in 1993, Rivera clerked for Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was a U.S. District Judge at the time. Since then, she has served as a Special Deputy Attorney General for Civil Rights and has held teaching positions at several law schools.

Michael J. Garcia, Judge

Judge Michael J. Garcia was nominated by Governor Andrew Cuomo to the New York Court of Appeals in January 2016 and confirmed the following month. He will finish his 14-year term in February 2030 and will reach the mandatory retirement age in 2031.

Legal Career

  • After graduating from Albany Law School in 1989, Garcia worked in corporate law as an associate at Cahill Gordan & Reindel LLP. He then served as a judicial clerk to a judge on the NY Court of Appeals. From 1992-2001, Garcia worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. He then worked as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Enforcement for the Bureau of Industry and Security before working with the Department of Justice’s Immigration and Naturalization Service. He also worked as the Assistant Secretary for ICE and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York before going back to the corporate sector and then becoming a judge.

Madeline Singas, Judge

Judge Madeline Singas was nominated by Governor Andrew Cuomo to the New York Court of Appeals in May 2021 to replace the retired Judge Leslie Stein. She was confirmed by the State Senate in June 2021.  Her term will end in June 2035 and she will be required to retire in 2036.

Legal Career

  • Upon graduation from Fordham School of Law, Judge Singas served as an Assistant District Attorney in Queens County from 1991-2006. She then worked in the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, first as the Chief of the Special Victims Bureau. She was then promoted to Chief Assistant District Attorney in 2011 and then Acting District Attorney is 2015, the role she served as until her judicial appointment.

Anthony Cannataro, Judge 

Judge Anthony Cannataro was nominated by Governor Andrew Cuomo to the New York Court of Appeals in May 2021 to replace the retired Judge Paul Feinman. He was confirmed by the State Senate in June 2021. His term will end in June 2035 and he will be required to retire in 2035.

Legal Career

  • Upon graduation from New York Law School, Cannataro worked as Assistant Corporation Counsel for the NYC Law Department. He then did two judicial clerkships with former Judges Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick and Lottie E. Wilkins. In 2011, he was elected to be Civil Court Judge of the City of New York and later became Supervising Judge of the New York County Civil Court. In 2017, he was elected to the Supreme Court for the 1st Judicial District and concurrently served as the appointed Citywide Administration Judge for the New York City Civil Court.

Shirley Troutman, Judge   

Judge Shirley Troutman was nominated by Governor Kathy Hochul to serve on the New York Court of Appeals in November 2021 to fill the vacancy left by Judge Eugene Fahey. She was confirmed by the State Senate in January 2022. The end of her term coincides with her mandatory retirement date, December 31st, 2029.

Legal Career

  • After graduating from Albany Law School, Troutman worked as an Assistant District Attorney in Erie County. She then served as an Assistant Attorney General and later as an Assistant United States Attorney, representing the state of New York and the U.S. in civil matters. She also worked as a law professor at the University of Buffalo before being appointed by former Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello to a judgeship on the Buffalo City Court in 1994. In 2002, she was elected to the Erie County Court before becoming a New York State Supreme Court justice in 2009. Governor Andrew Cuomo designated Troutman to serve on the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court in 2016.

Caitlin Halligan, Judge   

Judge Caitlin Halligan was nominated by Governor Kathy Hochul to serve on the New York Court of Appeals in April 2023 to replace Hon. Rowan Wilson after he was appointed Chief Judge. She was confirmed by the New York State Senate the same month. The end of her term coincides with her mandatory retirement date, December 31st, 2036.

Legal Career

  • After graduating from Georgetown University Law Center, Halligan clerked for Judge Patricia Wald and then U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. After her clerkships, she worked in private practice until 1999, when she joined the Office of the New York State Attorney General. Within this office, she worked as the Chief of the Office’s Internet Bureau, then as First Deputy Solicitor General and then as Solicitor General for New York. In 2007, she returned to private practice before working as General Counsel to the New York County District Attorney’s Office. She returned again to private practice, largely focusing on appellate work.
Noteworthy Cases

Criminal Justice

  • People v. Johnson (2023)
    • The court ruled that evidence seized as a result of a stop and frisk must be excluded because the officer who performed the search lacked reasonable suspicion to justify the stop and frisk after the defendant exited a parked car and walked down the street.
  • People v. Baines (2022)
    • The court ruled that an appellant who represented himself at trial and was later convicted and sentenced to 50 years in prison was deprived of his right to counsel because the trial court failed to adequately inform him of the risks of representing himself at trial or assess his ability to make the decision to represent himself knowingly and voluntarily.
  • People v. Garcia (2022)
    • The court ruled that the potential threat of deportation is not sufficient to justify a jury trial after a man asserted that he was entitled to a jury trial after being charged with a Class-B misdemeanor, which caused him to face the threat of deportation.
  • People v. Heiserma (2022)
    • The court held that detainees do not have a right to respond to perceived use of excessive force with physical force of their own, ruling that a defendant who attacked a police sergeant who pepper sprayed him while he was being processed for an arrest was properly charged with assault against the sergeant.
  • People v. Hargrove (2021)
    • In a case brought by an appellant who had been convicted of an armed felony, the court accepted the state’s concession that the sentencing court failed to make any appropriate on-the-record determination about whether the appellant was eligible for youth offender status that would reduce his sentence and remanded the case for consideration of youthful offender treatment.
  • People v. Page (2020)
    • The court ruled that a weapon could be introduced as evidence in the trial of a defendant for criminal possession of a weapon, finding that a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent properly stopped the vehicle the defendant was riding in for driving dangerously on a public highway and waited in his truck for police officers, who searched the vehicle and arrested the defendant. The court ruled that lower courts improperly allowed the weapon to be suppressed during the defendant’s trial.

Democracy and Voting Rights

  • Harkenrider v. Hochul (2022)
    • After the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission failed to agree on new apportionment maps for the state’s legislature and senate, the Democratic-led state legislature created new maps. The court held that the commission is required by the constitution to approve the maps, declaring them void and remitting the matter to the New York Supreme Court to oversee the adoption of new, constitutionally compliant maps.

Environmental Protections

  • Protect the Adirondacks! Inc. v. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (2021)
    • The court ruled that the state constitution’s “forever wild” provision that protects state-owned conservation sites prevented the Cuomo Administration’s planned addition of snowmobile trails to the Adirondack Park Forest Preserve because expanding motorized use of the land would require the cutting and removal of thousands of trees, rocks and other natural components and would have negative environmental consequences for the forest.
  • The Matter of Town of Southampton v. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (2023)
    • The court ruled that mine owners do not have a constitutional right to mine their parcels to an indefinite depth and annulled permits awarded to the owner and operator of a 50-acre sand and gravel mine, finding the company had improperly used a renewal permit to avoid the restrictions of the state’s Environmental Conservation Law in its efforts to expand the mine.

Equal Employment Opportunity

  • Sassi v. Mobile Life Support Servs., Inc. (2021)
    • The court ruled that a complainant presented enough evidence to adequately support his claim that his former employer, who properly terminated him after he was convicted of a criminal offense, violated the state’s anti-discrimination statute when it denied his application for employment following his completion of a brief jail sentence. The ruling allowed the complaint against the employer to proceed.

Labor and Workers’ Rights

  • Donohue v. Cuomo (2022)
    • The court held that health insurance benefits for retirees may be subject to modification by a public employer after a collective bargaining agreement expires unless there is specific language expressly guaranteeing a lifetime benefit, denying a challenge from retired public workers to changes to the state’s contribution rates for optional health-benefit plans.
  • Vega v. Commissioner of Labor (2020)
    • The court held that substantial evidence supported the state’s Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board’s determination that couriers hired by Postmates Inc. are not independent contractors as alleged by the company but rather employees for whom Postmates is required to make unemployment insurance fund contributions, after the company blocked one of its couriers from accessing its app to accept delivery assignments and then challenged a determination by the state’s Department of Labor that it was required to pay unemployment insurance contributions on the claimant’s earnings as well as on the earnings of all other persons similarly employed.