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City judge pick ruled constitutional

A lawsuit was filed by Marguerita Lopez Torres, a former Brooklyn judge who sought that borough's Democratic Party backing for a Supreme Court slot, against the state Board of Elections in an attempt to throw out the conventions. She was denied the party's endorsement because she did not agree on a list of people the party wanted her to hire as law clerks.She contended that the closed-door judicial conventions, where party higher-ups meet to select candidates, was unconstitutional because the public was not directly involved in the process. Voters elect delegates to the judicial convention but have no exact say in who the Supreme Court candidates are.Parties pick their candidates for every other type of office through direct primaries, where the voters decide their party's nominees.She was joined in her suit by other judicial candidates, voters and the Common Cause civic organization. The federal appeals court in New York ruled that the convention system was unconstitutional and ordered the state to use primaries to choose candidates.In writing the U.S. Supreme Court 9-0 opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia said the judicial conventions are valid because "a political party has a First Amendment right... to chose a candidate-selection process that will in its view produce the nominee who best represents its political platform."A state's power to prescribe party use of primaries or conventions to select nominees for the general election is not without limits," he said.State Supreme Court candidates nominated at the conventions are assured of winning in the general election because they are usually cross-endorsed by the Queens Republican Party. In Queens, every Democratic candidate has won a seat on the Supreme Court since at least 1990.While all nine U.S. Supreme Court Justices said the judicial conventions can go on, Justice John Paul Stevens said the ruling "should not be misread as an endorsement of" the process."I think it appropriate to emphasize the distinction between constitutionality and wise policy," he said before quoting the late Thurgood Marshall. "The Constitution does not prohibit legislatures from enacting stupid laws."Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

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