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Rowan Wilson confirmed as chief judge

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  • Staff Report 

On Tuesday, Rowan Wilson was confirmed as the next chief judge of New York, marking the first time a Black judge will lead the Court of Appeals and the state’s extensive court system. Wilson’s confirmation followed a 40-19 party-line vote in the Democratic-controlled state Senate. While Democrats have lauded Wilson’s resume and jurisprudence, Republicans have accused him of being too liberal to head the court.

Governor Kathy Hochul’s second nomination for the Court of Appeals, New York state’s highest court, was Wilson. Initially, in late December, Hochul nominated Justice Hector LaSalle, but his nomination was rejected in a historic vote by the state Senate due to opposition from labor unions and progressive advocates.

Hochul praised Wilson, stating, “Throughout his tenure on the bench, he has proven himself to be a thoughtful leader who recognizes the power of the judiciary to impact the lives of all New Yorkers.” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Hoylman-Sigal also spoke highly of Wilson.

Republicans, however, criticized Wilson’s qualifications and prior rulings, including a rape case centered on speedy trial concerns. Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt accused Democrats of attempting to reshape the court by pushing it to the left.

Compared to LaSalle, Wilson was a more acceptable nominee for Democrats and progressives, allowing him to take over the role left vacant since August when Judge Janet DiFiore resigned. The state Senate had previously confirmed Wilson as an associate judge in 2017.

Wilson’s confirmation comes as Democrats consider changes to the court and its nomination process. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has not ruled out a potential constitutional amendment to reduce the influence of an appointed nominating commission that selects candidates for gubernatorial nominations.

Democrats have raised concerns over the court’s recent decisions, including labor issues and the rejection of lawmaker-drawn redistricting maps last year. On Wednesday, Hochul is expected to formally nominate former state solicitor general Caitlin Halligan as an associate judge to fill Wilson’s position. Hochul expedited the process by choosing both Wilson and Halligan from the same list of potential nominees submitted by the nominating commission.

Top Democrats on the Senate Judiciary panel have indicated their support for Halligan’s nomination as it progresses. However, Republicans are considering a potential lawsuit to block Halligan’s nomination and challenge the law.