Gov. Andrew Cuomo may soon have another opportunity to promote diversity. By the end of this year, he must appoint two new judges to the Court of Appeals. Here is a chance to help make the justice system more just by increasing diversity on the bench. It is time for the governor to put a member of the LGBT community on the state's highest court.
Only seven states Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington have named LGBT jurists to their highest courts. No state has a gay or lesbian chief jurist. At this point in history, those national statistics are indefensible. And in New York, with our historic, populous, and culturally rich LGBT citizenry, the absence is inexplicable.
By appointing an LGBT candidate to the Court of Appeals, the governor would not simply check some box on a political score card. He would introduce a crucial perspective into the high court's decision making an important viewpoint that has been missing. That perspective, however, does not equate to a guaranteed vote on any given issue. The LGBT community is itself diverse. But given our hard-won and rapidly evolving place in the broader culture, from the cruelly oppressed to the haltingly embraced, we have shared a common education on the complexity of human nature.
Benjamin Cardozo, a former chief judge of the Court of Appeals and one of this nation's greatest legal minds, described the centrality of a judge's individual perspective this way: "All their lives, forces which [judges] do not recognize and cannot name, have been tugging at them inherited instincts, traditional beliefs, acquired convictions; and the result is an outlook on life, a conception of social needs. We may try to see things as objectively as we please. Nonetheless, we can never see them with any eyes except our own."
New Yorkers need someone on the Court of Appeals who sees things through the eyes of the LGBT experience. In myriad ways, people come into direct contact with the judiciary more than any other branch of government.
The courts resolve our family disputes, keep order in the business world, grapple with housing and employment emergencies, provide redress to those physically injured by the misconduct of others, vindicate our civil liberties, protect us from arbitrary government action, and judge those accused of crimes. The court decides how the law is applied in each of these areas, and that process involves the combined wisdom, experience, and compassion of its judges. And because the LGBT experience has been unique in each of these areas, the LGBT perspective must be part of that court's consensus.
This past June 23rd, the New York City Landmarks Commission declared that the Stonewall Inn, located in my Assembly District in Greenwich Village, would be protected as a historic landmark. In 46 years of struggle, things had come full circle and the metaphor is powerful. The Stonewall riots of 1969, where LGBT residents of New York City forcibly repelled police abuse, marked a fight against institutional oppression. Now, the site of those riots is, itself, a city institution.
Three days later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that marriage equality is henceforth the law of the land. As a result of Cuomo's leadership, New York has enjoyed marriage equality since 2011. However, the Supreme Court's ruling last month guaranteed the right of LGBT families across the country to participate fully in our society's most fundamental social and legal institution.
In the next few months, Cuomo will have the chance to lead again. By naming an LGBT candidate to the Court of Appeals, he will make another essential state institution more inclusive of the people who make New York a great engine of equality and opportunity. It would be a tremendous step forward.