Magazine article The New Yorker

Special Kaye

Magazine article The New Yorker

Special Kaye

Article excerpt

One day in 1993, shortly after Judith S. Kaye became chief judge of New York's highest court, she received a call from her daughter, who was on jury duty at the State Supreme Court, in Foley Square. "You know, Mom," she said, "this is a great place to meet guys." Strolling around that jury-assembly room the other day, Kaye paused, and deadpanned, "That's when I immediately decided to upgrade the jury pool."

Kaye has the prim look of a Park Avenue dowager and the knowing smile of a Bronx pol. She turned seventy this year, so she is obligated to retire from the Court of Appeals at the end of the month. When Kaye became chief judge, New York granted exemptions from jury service to people in twenty-two different occupations--from doctors and lawyers to embalmers and the makers and users of prosthetic devices. "If you could get a lobbyist to Albany, you could get your people out of jury service," she said.

Kaye led a successful fight to abolish all exemptions; now everyone serves. As a result, a total of about six hundred and fifty thousand prospective jurors file, semi-voluntarily, into courtrooms around the state each year. With so many more jurors in the pool, citizens usually serve for a few days, rather than the two weeks that was common in the old days. Kaye's reasons for promoting jury service range from the pragmatic ("We needed to show people, including the media, that the courts actually did work") to the romantic ("The opportunity to sit in judgment of others is one of the great privileges of citizenship").

The chief judge has responsibilities that are both rarefied and banal: guiding the jurisprudence of the top court, and supervising the gritty details of the sprawling state judicial system. In her politics, Kaye has reflected the liberal views of Mario Cuomo, the governor who, in 1983, when she was a Manhattan commercial litigator, plucked her from the ranks to make her the first woman on the Court of Appeals. During her tenure, Kaye repeatedly voted to strike down the state's death-penalty laws--no one was executed on her watch--and she filed a passionate dissenting opinion in 2006, when a bare majority of her seven colleagues voted to refuse to recognize the right of gay people to marry. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.