RYE, N.Y. -- The first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court may have been whistling past his own graveyard near Boston Post Road on Tuesday.
In this case, it was due to the historic visit by the chief judge of New York who roused the activist bones of more than 200 guests at the site of John Jay's childhood farmhouse in Rye.
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman drew a standing ovation after saying "it is a national embarrassment for our state to be so out of step" as one of two states nationwide that automatically charges 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. The other state is North Carolina, a fact that left Lippman throwing up his arms in disbelief.
Lippman said New York's archaic age threshold dates back to the Family Court Act of 1962, when state legislators could not agree and picked the age of 16 as a temporary measure, tentative and subject to change. "Studies recommended further study,'' he said, and a law that defies modern science and U.S. Supreme Court rulings related to juveniles "has now lasted a half a century without meaningful consideration."
About 50,000 16- and 17-year-olds are tried as adults every year in New York. Statewide, more than 70 percent of the children arrested are black or Latino. "These numbers are unconscionable by any standard,'' he said.
Eight states still charge 17-year-old criminal offenders as adults, while Connecticut upped its threshold to 18 years old in 2012.
As Suzanne Clary, board president at the Jay Heritage Center pointed out, Lippman is the first New York chief judge (since John Jay) to visit the Jay Property. John Jay was once a New York chief judge as well as governor, "So you're all part of history,'' Clary said.
Lippman said there is hope that a Commission on Youth, Public Safety and Justice appointed by Gov. Cuomo will recommend next year that state legislators raise the age of criminal responsibility. "It is by no means a fait accompli and much work remains to be done,'' he said.
Lippman was welcomed by Maria Imperial, chief executive officer of the YWCA of White Plains & Central Westchester -- which co-sponsored the talk. Other speakers included Julia Nesbitt, director of Racial Justice Initiatives at the YWCA; and Bernadette Kenny and Patricia Mulqueen, co-presidents of the YWCA Board.