It was Saturday, December 29, 1984. The Court of Appeals convened in a special session to address a constitutional question that went to the very heart of New York's judicial system. A trial court in New York had ruled that the mandatory retirement provisions of state law for state-court judges (requiring retirement at age seventy) abridged the due process and equal protection clauses of the Federal Constitution. The appeal had to be finally decided by the Court of Appeals before midnight on December 31, 1984, at which time newly-elected judges were scheduled to assume office. Senior Associate Judge Matthew J. Jasen--for whom I was a law clerk in 1984 and 1985--was acting Chief Judge, and we traveled from Buffalo to Albany for the special session. After oral argument and consultation with the judges of the court, Judge Jasen endeavored to draft an opinion for the court.
The court confronted several questions including whether state law violated the equal protection clause by permitting justices of the supreme court to receive "certification" (which would allow those justices to serve until the age of seventy-six) while denying the same opportunity for certification to undeniably accomplished judges serving on other courts such as civil court, criminal court, county court, surrogate's court and court of claims. As is evident from the court's opinion, Judge Jasen put the policy considerations underlying state law to one side and considered whether there was a rational basis for the law's distinctions. As the court's opinion shows, the answer was found in Professor Siegel's authoritative treatise on New York Practice. In a unanimous opinion that was handed down on New Year's Eve, Judge Jasen stated:
Mindful of the State-wide reach of Supreme Court jurisdiction, the absence of maximum monetary limitations upon invocation of Supreme Court jurisdiction, and the conferral of jurisdiction over certain simple or specialized matters upon other courts, the complexity of Supreme Court matters may rationally be deemed to require greater experience and manpower than are necessary in other courts. Where, as here, significant reasons of fiscal concern and the proper administration of the courts exist, or could conceivably exist, to justify distinctions between judicial offices, the lack of mathematical symmetry within the unified court system shall be disregarded. (1) This is a perfect exemplar of the special relationship that Professor Siegel had with the New York Court of Appeals. Under unusual time constraints, Judge Jasen turned to a trusted and reliable partner in the shared mission of the development of the law of New York--David D. Siegel--in deciding a question of constitutional and state--wide importance. (2)
Professor Siegel's writings have transcended procedure and influenced the substantive merits of cases. For example, in...