Janet DiFiore, New York’s top judge, to step down Aug. 31
New York’s top state judge will step down on Aug. 31, leaving midway through her term and clearing the way for Gov. Kathy Hochul to name a successor.
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, a Democrat, served as the state’s top-ranking jurist since 2016, when she was appointed to the role by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo after serving as Westchester County district attorney. As chief judge, DiFiore led not only the seven-member Court of Appeals but also the state’s entire unified court system, a major administrative role that made her the face of the judiciary.
In a letter sent Monday to her colleagues, DiFiore said she will soon “move on to the next chapter in life.” She did not specify what that entails.
“As Chief Judge, I set out to bring operational and decisional excellence to every level of our court system while leading our state’s high court in developing a strong, predictable body of law to guide our communities, our economy and the personal and professional lives of our citizenry,” DiFiore wrote.
Her pending resignation was first reported by The New York Times.
She was confirmed by the state Senate in February 2016, and would have reached the Court of Appeals’ mandatory retirement age of 70 in 2025.
One of the most significant decisions of DiFiore’s term came three months ago, when she wrote the majority opinion overturning New York’s Democrat-drawn congressional and state Senate lines, ruling the state Legislature didn’t follow the proper procedures for drawing the districts after a non-partisan panel failed to reach consensus.
Her opinion also found Democrats unconstitutionally gerrymandered the congressional lines to their benefit.
The ruling led to new lines, less favorable to Democrats, that were drawn by a court-appointed special master, along with a primary election shuffle that saw the congressional and Senate races pushed back to August from June.
Now, Hochul will soon accept applicants for the pending opening, after which point the state Commission on Judicial Nomination will present her with finalists.
From there, Hochul will pick a replacement subject to state Senate confirmation. That won’t happen until January, when the Legislature is due back in Albany, unless Hochul calls lawmakers back to the Capitol sooner.
Within hours of DiFiore’s resignation, at least one top lawmaker was urging Hochul to pick a progressive-leaning chief judge.
“In light of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions and now news of the New York Chief Judge stepping down, it is more important than ever that Governor Hochul nominates and the Senate confirms a progressive chief judge,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie tweeted.
This story has been updated with additional comment.