ALBANY - Gov. Andrew Cuomo has reshaped the Court of Appeals, New York's highest state court, appointing all seven of its members over his first six years in office.
Now, the untimely death of Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam means Cuomo will appoint a judge to the court for the eighth time.
And the latest slate of candidates has given Cuomo has the opportunity to do something no New York governor has done before: Appoint an openly LGBT member.
Last week, the state Commission on Judicial Nomination presented Cuomo a slate of seven candidates for the Court of Appeals vacancy.
Of those, two are openly gay: Rosalyn Richter and Paul Feinman, associate justices in the Appellate Division, the state's mid-level appeals court.
Five gay members of the state Legislature -- including Assemblyman Harry Bronson, D-Rochester -- wrote to Cuomo Tuesday, arguing New York is "past due" for an LGBT justice on its high court.
"Both Justice Feinman and Justice Richter are seasoned jurists who are highly regarded by practitioners, their peers and the LGBT community," the lawmakers wrote. "Either would be a superlative addition to the Court of Appeals."
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Along with Bronson, the letter was signed by Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, and Assembly members Deborah Glick, D-Manhattan; Daniel O'Donnell, D-Manhattan; and Matthew Titone, D-Staten Island.
Gary Spencer, the longtime spokesman for the Court of Appeals, said there has been no openly LGBT member of the court "to my knowledge."
Through a clerk, Richter declined comment Tuesday, while Feinman couldn't immediately be reached..
Both are first-time nominees for the Court of Appeals and have lengthy legal careers, according to biographies provided by the commission.
Feinman, a University of Minnesota Law School graduate, was elected a New York City judge in 1996. In 2007, he was elected to state Supreme Court in Manhattan before Cuomo appointed him to the Appellate Division in 2012.
Richter received her degree from Brooklyn Law School, beginning her judicial career as a New York City administrative law judge in 1987. She went on to become a judge in Manhattan criminal court and state
Supreme Court before she was appointed to the Appellate Divison in 2009.
Both have been active members in LGBT causes, according to their biographies.
Feinman was the president of the International Association of Lesbian and Gay Judges from 2008 through 2011, while Richter serves on the board of the Richard C. Falla LGBTQ Commission.
Of the five other nominees, four are current appellate division justices: Judith Gische, Mary Kay Vyskocil, Troy
Karen Webber and Gerald Whalen.
The remaining nominee is Eric Corngold, a former aide to then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo who is now an attorney in private practice.
Cuomo has been a major supporter of LGBT rights, successfully pushing for passage of the state's same-sex marriage law in 2011, his first year in office.
His spokesman, Rich Azzopardi, said the seven nominees are being vetted.
"The applicants, who were all found to be highly qualified by the Commission on Judicial Nomination, are under review," Azzopardi said Tuesday.
Cuomo is expected to announce his choice before June 21, when the Legislature is scheduled to end its annual session. His pick then has to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate.
The governor appointed Abdus-Salaam to the court in 2013, making her the first African-American female to sit on the Court of Appeals.
Abdus-Salaam was found dead in the Hudson River in Manhattan in April. Police have said there were no signs of a crime and investigated her death as a potential suicide.