New York Court of Appeals Decision Regarding Dispute Over Judicial Compensation

February 23, 2010
In a 5 – 1 decision the New York Court of Appeals found that the legislature and the executive branches had undermined the independence of the judicial branch by tying judges pay raises to unrelated legislation, including bills to raise legislators own salaries, thereby violating the separation of powers doctrine. The last pay raise for New York judges was in 1998.

In his dissent Judge Robert S. Smith stated that while he shares his colleagues’ dismay at the Legislature’s behavior in dealing with, or rather failing to deal with, judges’ salaries, he “cannot agree that any of its actions or inactions are unconstitutional….”

The current Chier Judge of the Court of Appeals, Jonathan Lippman, recused himself from the deliberations because he was a plaintiff in one of the cases the ruling addresses.

Public Statement of Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, delivered on February 23, 2010 at 1:PM.

Here are excerpts from the beginning and end of the decision:


“The constitutional arguments raised in these judicial compensation appeals are premised upon, among other things, alleged violations of the New York State Constitution’s Compensation Clause and the Separation of Powers Doctrine. Because the Separation of Powers doctrine is aimed at preventing one branch of government from dominating or interfering with the functioning of another co-equal branch, we conclude that the independence of the judiciary is improperly jeopardized by the current judicial pay crisis and this constitutes a violation of the Separation of Powers Doctrine.”

Conclusion It is unfortunate that this Court has been called upon to adjudicate constitutional issues relative to an underlying matter upon which all have agreed; namely, that the Judiciary is entitled to a compensation adjustment. By ensuring that any judicial salary increases will be premised on their merits, this holding aims to strike the appropriate balance between preserving the independence of the Judiciary and avoiding encroachment on the budget-making authority of the Legislature. Therefore, judicial compensation, when addressed by the Legislature in present and future budget deliberations cannot depend on unrelated policy initiatives or legislative compensation adjustments. Of course, whether judicial compensation should be adjusted, and by how much, is within the province of the Legislature. It should keep in mind, however, that whether the Legislature has met its constitutional obligations in that regard is within the province of this Court (see Marbury v Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 [1803]). We therefore expect appropriate and expeditious legislative consideration.

Accordingly, In Maron, the order of the Appellate Division should be modified, without costs, by remitting to Supreme Court for – 35 – No. 016; 017; 018 – 35 – further proceedings in accordance with this opinion, and as so modified, affirmed.

In Larabee, the order of Appellate Division should be modified, and in Chief Judge, the judgment of Supreme Court and the order of the Appellate Division should be modified, without costs, by granting judgment declaring that under the circumstances of these cases, as a matter of law, the State defendants’ failure to consider judicial compensation on the merits violates the Separation of Powers Doctrine, and by allowing for the remedy discussed in this opinion, and, asmodified, affirmed.


New York Court of Appeals Judicial Compensation Decision February 23, 2010

No. 16 In the Matter of Edward A. Maron et al., Appellants,


Sheldon Silver, as Speaker of the State Assembly, et al.,
et al.,

No. 17 Hon. Susan Larabee, et al.,


Governor of the State of New York,

New York State Senate, et al.,

No. 18 The Chief Judge of the State of New York et al.,


The Governor of the State of New York, et al.,

Case No. 16:
Steven Cohn, for appellants.
Richard H. Dolan, for respondents.
Association of Justices of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, et al., amici curiae.
– 1 –
Case No. 17:
Richard H. Dolan, for appellants-respondents and respondent.
Thomas E. Bezanson, for respondents-appellants.
Association of Justices of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, et al.; New York County Lawyers’ Association;
Atlantic Legal Foundation et al.; Zachary W. Carter; Asian American Bar Association of New York, et al., amici curiae.

Case No. 18:
Bernard W. Nussbaum, for appellants-respondents.
Richard H. Dolan, for respondents-appellants.
Fund for Modern Courts; Association of Justices of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, et al., amici curiae.

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