January 15, 2015 / 11:51 PM / 5 years ago

Cuomo nomination tips N.Y. top court to Democratic majority

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and his partner Sandra Lee depart the wake for slain New York Police Department officer Wenjian Liu in the Brooklyn borough of New York January 3, 2015. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

ALBANY, N.Y. (Reuters) - New York’s top state court, controlled by Republicans for more than a decade, will likely have a wide Democratic majority after Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday nominated a longtime judge to a vacancy.

The seven-judge Court of Appeals is the last stop for many cases, and its decisions can have a broad impact on criminal law, banking, insurance and other industries.

Cuomo nominated Justice Eugene Fahey, a Democrat who sits in another appeals court, to a vacancy left after the retirement of Republican Judge Robert Smith.

If Fahey and another pending nominee are confirmed by the state Senate, which is widely expected, the court will have five Democrats and two Republicans. Just two months ago, before Judge Victoria Graffeo’s term expired and Smith stepped down, Republicans had a 4-3 majority.

While the Court of Appeals is seen as less polarized than the U.S. Supreme Court, lawyers and court observers said the rapid shift to a Democratic majority would not only make the court more liberal but possibly more willing to push the boundaries of the law, giving the court more national prominence.

Vincent Bonventre, a professor at Albany Law School, said a Democratic court, for instance, may be more inclined to wade into novel legal issues that have not been addressed by lawmakers.

“The Court of Appeals wasn’t doing anything particularly bold” when it was stocked with appointees of former Republican Governor George Pataki, he said.

Fahey’s nomination must be confirmed within 30 days by the state Senate, which has never rejected a governor’s Court of Appeals nomination. Cuomo’s nomination in November of Justice Leslie Stein, another Democratic appellate judge, is also pending.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair John Bonacic, a Republican, said in a statement on Thursday that he expects Fahey and Stein to be confirmed.

Reporting by Daniel Wiessner; Editing by Ted Botha and Grant McCool

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