Rowan Wilson nominated to be State’s next Chief Judge by Gov. Hochul

April 10, 2023 Robert Abruzzese
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STATEWIDE — Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Monday a new nominee to lead New York’s highest court, Hon. Rowan Wilson, who is currently sitting as an associate justice of the Court of Appeals.

The announcement comes nearly two months after the State Senate rejected Hochul’s last pick for chief judge, Hon. Hector LaSalle, who was denied for anti-labor decisions.

Hochul, a Democrat, said on Monday that she would nominate Rowan Wilson as its chief judge. Alongside this nomination, Hochul also announced Caitlin Halligan, a private attorney and former New York State solicitor general, as her choice to fill the vacancy created by Judge Wilson’s elevation.

“Today I am nominating Judge Rowan Wilson to serve as Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals and announcing my intention to nominate Caitlin Halligan as Associate Judge,” Hochul announced on social media. “These highly-qualified, thoughtful jurists will serve with distinction & ensure our courts deliver justice to all.”

The Democratic-controlled State Senate must confirm the nominees. Earlier this year, lawmakers blocked Hochul’s initial nominee for chief judge, Justice Hector LaSalle, due to concerns over his conservative leanings. It was the first time in the State’s history that a chief judge nominee was rejected. Previously, the State Senate’s approval was seen as a rubber stamp.

Justice Wilson would not only participate in Court of Appeals decisions, but also oversee the court system’s 16,000 employees and $3 billion budget if approved as the next chief judge.

His potential promotion could shift the court’s perceived ideological direction, which critics argue has leaned right under former chief judge Janet DiFiore. The push by ruling Democrats in Albany for a more liberal chief judge comes as state courts nationwide are increasingly involved in cases concerning fundamental rights, including abortion and worker rights.

The state’s top judicial position has been without a permanent replacement since DiFiore abruptly and unexpectedly resigned in late August. Since then, the remaining six judges on the seven-member court have reportedly deadlocked in several cases involving individuals’ rights upon arrest.

Justice Wilson has been considered a consistent liberal voice on the bench. He was nominated by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Jan 2017 and confirmed by the State Senate soon after.

Wilson was this year’s honoree for Black History Month by the local courts and Brooklyn Bar Association. Progressive groups that opposed Justice LaSalle have expressed support for Wilson.

Halligan, who has argued six cases before the Supreme Court, served as the state’s solicitor general from 2001 to 2007 and was general counsel to former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. She was also nominated multiple times by former President Barack Obama for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Justice Wilson is an Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals who was born in Pomona, California, in 1960 and grew up in Berkeley, California.

He graduated from Harvard College in 1981, and from Harvard Law School in 1984. After working as a judicial law clerk for two years, he joined the firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore in 1986 and became partner there in 1991, a position he held until February 2017.

Throughout his legal career, Justice Wilson has embraced the role as a legal advocate, serving as chair of the Neighborhood Defender Services of Harlem since 1996, leading the pro bono work at Cravath, and taking on cases tackling antitrust, intellectual property, contract, securities fraud and entertainment and media issues. He also serves on the board of Wide Horizons for Children, an organization centered on protecting orphaned children globally.

In a statement, Sherry Levin Wallach, president of the NYS Bar Association, praised both nominees. She lauded Judge Wilson as “brilliant, conscientious, and thoughtful,” highlighting his experience and ability to lead the court system with compassion and dignity.

Wallach added that Halligan is a “brilliant attorney” with vast experience in high-level litigation, including at the Court of Appeals. Wallach emphasized Halligan’s dedication to justice, as demonstrated by her public and pro bono work, and her potential to become an intellectual leader in the Court of Appeals with innovative ideas to enhance court administration and access to justice.

Peter Martin, Director of Judicial Accountability at the Center for Community Alternatives, expressed his satisfaction with Judge Wilson’s nomination, and cited his commitment to safeguarding New Yorkers’ rights and protecting vulnerable populations. Martin urged the Senate to confirm Judge Wilson’s nomination following a thorough review of his record.However, Martin expressed reservations about Halligan’s potential nomination as Associate Judge, noting her lack of experience fighting for marginalized New Yorkers against the government and corporations. While acknowledging that Halligan has represented progressive clients and would be an improvement over departed Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, Martin emphasized the importance of the Senate scrutinizing her nomination closely due to her wide-ranging and somewhat contradictory record.

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