Chief Judge nominee Rowan Wilson advances through Senate Judiciary Committee
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s nominee for Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, Hon. Rowan Wilson, who currently sits right here in Brooklyn in the Appellate Division, Second Department, received approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday.
Monday’s hearing was notable only because it was significantly less contentious than the hearing for the previous nominee, Hon. Hector LaSalle, who was the first chief judge nominee ever rejected.
Wilson, who could become the first Black leader of the top court and state judicial system, received support from all Democrats present, four Republicans voted against, and one Republican, Andrew Lanza, chose not to make a recommendation. Wilson’s nomination will now face the full Senate.
Rowan Wilson, 62, is a California native who currently resides in New York City. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1984 and spent over 30 years as a commercial attorney at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, where he became the major firm’s first Black partner in 1992.
In 2013, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed Wilson as one of the seven members of the state’s high court. Since then, he has consistently been a liberal voice and one of the court’s most prolific opinion writers.
As chief judge, Wilson will continue to serve on the court while also overseeing New York’s broad web of state and local courts, an administrative role that will put him in charge of a budget exceeding $2 billion annually. He will be eligible to serve through 2031, when he reaches the state’s mandatory retirement age of 70.
During the hearing, Judiciary Committee Chair Brad Hoylman-Sigal, a Manhattan Democrat, expressed confidence in Wilson’s ability to lead New York’s highest court amid challenges facing the state and national judicial branches. Wilson is known for his liberal legal stance and has a strong record on civil rights, labor, environmental justice, privacy rights and tenants’ rights.
Wilson faced numerous questions regarding his judicial philosophy during the hearing. He stated that he believes in robust, behind-the-scenes debate among Court of Appeals judges, contrasting the more limited approach embraced by his predecessor, Janet DiFiore. He also pledged to expand the number of cases the Court of Appeals considers each year.
Wilson was asked about his recent ruling in a rape case that drew criticism from the state chapter of the National Organization for Women’s New York City Chapter, which opposed the judge’s nomination and accused him of “voting to strip a rape survivor of justice.” Despite the scrutiny, Wilson emphasized the importance of upholding constitutional rights.
The timing of Wilson’s nomination going to the full Senate floor remains uncertain but could occur as early as this week.
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