New York State Judiciary – Blue Room

The 1865 law authorizing the construction of a new Capitol directed that it should house all three branches of government. The Blue Room has housed all three at various times. Originally designed for the Court of Appeals, the Blue Room was, from its completion in 1879 to 1881, used by the State Senate while their Chamber was still under construction. It was only after the completion of the Senate Chamber that the Court of Appeals convened here for the first time in 1883. However, the judges were dissatisfied with the accommodations and by 1884, the Court had moved to the H.H. Richardson-designed room on the third floor. The Court of Claims met here until the late 1880s, then the District Court took over use of the room in 1891. In 1982, the Blue Room underwent an extensive renovation and was transferred to the Executive Offices. Governors have since used this room for press conferences, cabinet meetings, and public functions.

Robert R. Livingston (1746 - 1813)

Robert R Livingston was born in New York City in 1746. He was a politician, lawyer and diplomat and is best known as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.


Livingston was a member of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence, and also helped draft New York State’s first Constitution in 1777. He was the United States Secretary of Foreign Affairs from 1781 to 1783, under the Articles of Confederation. In 1783, he was appointed the first Chancellor of New York State -- a post he held for 25 years. He became universally known as “The Chancellor,” retaining the nickname even after he left the office.

Livingston was an advocate for the Federal Constitution, and served as a delegate to the New York convention held at Poughkeepsie in 1788, to ratify it. On April 30, 1789, he administered the presidential oath of office to George Washington at Federal Hall in New York City. In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson appointed Livingston United States Minister to France. He served in that office to 1804, and negotiated the Louisiana Purchase.

Robert R. Livingston, receipt for expenses as a delegate to examine New York’s boundary dispute with Massachusetts -1784

Robert R. Livingston was the first Chancellor of the new state of New York. He also served his state and country as a delegate to the Continental Congress, a member of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence, and U.S. minister to France (he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase in 1803). This document is a receipt for pay as a delegate to examine New York’s long-standing boundary dispute with Massachusetts, which was finally settled in 1786.

Courtesy of the New York State Library

James Kent (1763-1847)

James Kent graduated from Yale College in 1781 and began the practice of law in Poughkeepsie in 1785. In 1791 and 1792-93 Kent represented Dutchess County in the State Assembly. In 1793, he moved to New York City, where he was appointed a master in chancery for the City.

He was the first professor of law at Columbia College in 1793-98 and again served in the Assembly in 1796-97. He was appointed Recorder of New York City in 1797, a justice of the New York Supreme Court in 1798, Chief Justice in 1804, and Chancellor of New York in 1814. In 1821 he was a member of the New York State Constitutional Convention.


He is remembered for his Commentaries on American Law (four volumes, published 1826-1830). The Commentaries, highly respected in both the United States and England, treated state, federal and international law, and the law of personal rights and property. Six editions were published in Kent's lifetime.

Kent rendered his most essential service to American jurisprudence while serving as chancellor. Chancery, or equity law, had been unpopular during the colonial period, with few decisions having been published. His decisions in this field cover a wide range of topics, and are so thoroughly considered and developed that they form the basis of American equity jurisprudence.

James Kent, Commentaries on American Law – 1826

James Kent served as Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court and as Chancellor of the Court of Appeals. After his retirement in 1823 he wrote Commentaries on American Law; the first edition was published in 1826. Kent’s judicial opinions as Chancellor laid the foundation for equity jurisprudence in New York and the United States. His Commentaries were published in many editions and were a standard legal textbook throughout the rest of the nineteenth century.

Courtesy of the New York State Library

Thomas Evershed, View Showing the Progress of the Work on the Lock Section- 1839

Evershed, soon after emigrating from England, became a preeminent artist hired largely to document the growth of the Erie Canal. His maps, plans, and drawings of the canal system provide some of the most striking visual representations of how the canals were meant to be used. This sketch, showing the Erie Canal at Lockport, demonstrates the progress that had been made on locks to that point.

New York State Archives Collection

Hand Law Office Sign

Before opening his law practice in 1831, Augustus C. Hand studied at Judge Tapping Reeve’s Law School in Litchfield, Connecticut, believed to be the country’s first law school. This sign hung outside his Elizabethtown, New York office and insured that the community would easily remember the young attorney’s name. it was “A.C.” who began the family tradition of the practice of law.

New York State Bar Association

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954)

Robert Houghwout Jackson was born in Spring Creek, Pennsylvania and moved with his family to a village near Jamestown, New York in 1897. He did not attend college, but apprenticed in a law office and attended Albany Law School for one year. After passing the bar, he became a prominent trial lawyer in Jamestown, going on to become Solicitor General, Attorney General and Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. He represented the United States at the London Conference that established the International Military Tribunal, and served as Chief of Counsel for the United States at the first Nuremberg Trial in Germany in 1945 and 1946.

Despite his remarkable achievements in government service, Jackson believed his greatest accomplishments were the international legal principles established by the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg following World War II. Jackson's brilliance and courage in bringing Nazi war criminals to justice set the standards for modern international law -- standards to which the world continues to look today. After serving at Nuremberg, Justice Jackson returned to the bench of the United States Supreme Court where he continued to build a reputation as one of the brightest and most articulate judges to have served on the Court.

Robert Jackson was a lawyer whose career bridged the era of apprenticeship training and the present age of specialization. He began his practice in the small city of Jamestown, New York. By the end of his career as a steadfast defender of individual rights, he had served as Attorney General of the United States and as a distinguished Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court. Never one to sidestep duty or controversy during his tenure on the nation's highest court, Jackson accepted appointment by President Truman to be the Chief Prosecutor for the United States at the Nuremberg trials after World War II. Despite these accomplishments, Jackson always considered himself a country lawyer.

Jackson’s Stationary, Business Card and Glasses

New York State Bar Association

Jackson’s Scales of Justice

Scales of Justice belonging to Jackson.

New York State Bar Association

Benjamin N. Cardozo (1870-1938)

Benjamin N. Cardozo was born in New York City, where his ancestors had settled prior to the American Revolution. An Associate Judge (1914-1927) and Chief Judge (1928-1932) of the New York Court of Appeals, and Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1932-1938), he remains one of the most influential and respected jurists of the twentieth century. In particular, his decisions in tort law and fiduciary responsibility defined many standards that continue today.


Cardozo was elected to the New York Supreme Court in 1913 and appointed by Governor to the Court of Appeals the following year. In 1917, he was elected to a 14-year term at the Court of Appeals and elected Chief Judge in 1927. He remained in that post until President Herbert Hoover appointed him in 1932 to succeed Justice Oliver Wendell Homes on the U.S. Supreme Court. He served there until his death in 1938.

Cardozo won international renown for his original thinking as expressed in his books: The Nature of the Judicial Process (1921); The Growth of the Law (1924); The Paradoxes of Legal Science (1928); and Law and Literature and Other Essays and Addresses (1931).

The bedrock of justice and constitutional rights in America is an honest, impartial and independent judiciary. New York has been blessed with many jurists who combined these qualities with brilliance, wisdom and humility. None personifies these qualities better than Benjamin Nathan Cardozo.

Cardozo Book

In 1921 Cardozo wrote his important book, “The Nature of the Judicial Process”, which became a classic in judicial decision-making and remains current today. This is a first edition copy.

New York State Bar Association

Cardozo Gavel

This ivory gavel was presented to Judge Cardozo in 1914 when he was appointed to New York State’s highest court only one month after taking his seat as a Justice of the New York State Supreme Court. He served on the State Court of Appeals for eighteen years and was elected Chief Judge in 1927.

New York State Bar Association

Crystal and Silver Inkwell

Crystal and silver inkwell belonging to Judge Cardozo’s father, Albert Cardozo. The inkwell, a prized possession of Judge Cardozo, was bequeathed to William H. Freese, a lawyer who started out as an office boy in Cardozo’s law office and was executor of his estate.

New York State Bar Association

Cardozo Phi Beta Kappa Key

Phi Beta Kappa key carried by Benjamin Cardozo upon graduation from Columbia College in 1889. The honor society was organized at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virigina in 1776. Chapters were soon organized at other colleges, Columbia joining in 1869. The gold key worn by members may also have served to wind the owner’s pocket watch. The ornate initials in the center are “SP” (Societas Philosophiae). On the reverse appear the society’s Greek letters, initials for the motto, “Love of wisdom, the guide of life,” with three stars representing the aims of the society – friendship, morality and literature.

New York State Bar Association

Signed Letter from President Harry Truman to Learned Hand

Letter from President Truman expressing his regret about Learned Hand’s retirement and commending him on his service to the Nation.

New York State Bar Association

Signed Learned Hand Speech

In 1944, Learned Hand delivered a powerful description of liberty to 150,000 newly naturalized American citizens. At the time it was called “one of the finest definitions of liberty uttered by a living American.” Translated into ten languages, it remains as moving today as it was when it was first published.

New York State Bar Association

George Bundy Smith (1937 - )

George Bundy Smith was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. His judicial service began in May 1975 when he was named to the Civil Court of New York City. He was appointed an Associate Judge of the New York Court of Appeals by Governor Mario M. Cuomo in 1992, and served in that post until his retirement in 2006. From 1987 until 1992, Smith was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department, and, from 1980 to 1986, was a Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York.


Prior to his elevation to the bench, Smith devoted his energies and talent to the fight for civil rights. Early in his career, he worked as an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. And, in 1961, as a student at Yale Law School, Smith travelled to Montgomery, Alabama as a Freedom Rider. He and ten other Freedom Riders were arrested in the Montgomery bus station and convicted of breach of the peace. Their convictions were later reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Photo of Judge George Bundy Smith Taken Following His Arrest as a Freedom Rider Fighting Against Segregation in the American South

The Freedom Riders were a group of civil rights activists who challenged segregation in the American South. Judge Smith's arrest occurred in May, 1961 in Montgomery, Alabama, when he requested service at a bus terminal lunch counter. He was charged with breach of the peace and unlawful assembly, but his conviction was overturned in 1965 by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision.

At the time of his arrest, Judge Smith was a law student at Yale Law School. Following graduation, he decided to use his legal expertise to advance the cause of civil rights. In fact, he began his career at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, where, among other things, he drafted appellate briefs in the successful effort to gain admission for James Meredith to the University of Mississippi.

Court of Appeals, Albany, New York

Judith S. Kaye (1938 - )

Judith S. Kaye was born in Monticello, New York. She became the first woman to serve on New York’s highest court when Governor Mario Cuomo appointed her Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals in 1983. In 1993, Governor Cuomo appointed her Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals. She was the first woman to occupy the State Judiciary's highest office, and served in that post for 15 years -- longer than any other Chief Judge in New York history. Prior to her appointment to the Court of Appeals, she was for 21 years a trial lawyer with law firms in New York City.


Kaye gained a national reputation for both her groundbreaking decisions and her innovative reforms of the New York court system. She wrote notable decisions on a wide variety of statutory, constitutional and common law issues, including rights for gay couples and the death penalty. She also left her mark on New York courts as a creative reformer, streamlining New York's jury system and establishing specialized courts to focus on issues such as drug addiction, domestic violence and mental health issues. In addition, she created the Adoption Now program that has produced more effective procedures for children in foster care and their families. Her reforms have been implemented by many other state courts.

Front page of New York Times the day after Judith S. Kaye's appointment as Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals

Front page of the New York Times reporting on Governor's Mario M. Cuomo's historic nomination of Judith S. Kaye to serve as Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals. She was the first woman to occupy the State judiciary's highest office.

Hon. Judith S. Kaye

Chief Judge Kaye's Nameplate

Nameplate that hung on locker in which Chief Judge Kaye's judicial robes were kept at Court of Appeals Hall in Albany.

Hon. Judith S. Kaye

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