The premature retirement of New York state Chief Judge Janet DiFiore leaves a big hole to fill on the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.

Gov. Kathy Hochul could make her mark on the court with this pick and activists want her to pick a new kind of chief judge that would address the “regressive” legacy of DiFiore.

By Nov. 25, the Commission on Judicial Nomination will, by statute, deliver a list of seven names of qualified candidates for the seat left vacant by DiFiore’s retirement. Gov. Hochul will select a name from that list and the nominee would then need to be confirmed by the state Senate. The Senate is scheduled to reconvene in the new year. One of the court’s least senior members, Anthony Cannataro, has been selected to serve as chief judge in the interim.

Unlike its federal counterpart, the Supreme Court, judges on the state’s Court of Appeals do not serve lifetime terms. Court of Appeals judges are nominated and confirmed to a 14-year term or they can serve until the end of the year that they turn 70 years old. The next expected vacancy will occur in February 2027 when Judge Jenny Rivera reaches 14 years on the court.

All of the judges on the court's bench have been made by the Democrat Hochul or her gubernatorial predecessor and fellow Democrat Andrew Cuomo. Despite this, Peter Martin, director of Judicial Accountability at the Center for Community Alternatives, says the court has been “regressive” and has sided with powerful interests.

At the time of her retirement, DiFiore was one of four judges with prior experience as a prosecutor, joining Judges Michael Garcia, Madeline Singas and Shirley Troutman. Martin argues that prior experience as a prosecutor does not disqualify someone from being considered for the court but the current court is “unacceptably imbalanced” and the new Chief Judge shouldn’t have that background.