Caitlin Halligan confirmed as Associate Judge on New York’s highest court

April 21, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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In a 47-12 vote on Wednesday, the State Senate confirmed Caitlin Halligan as an associate judge on the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.

Halligan, a former solicitor general and attorney in private practice, will fill the vacancy left by Rowan Wilson, who was elected chief judge of the state Court of Appeals a day earlier.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, who nominated Halligan earlier this month, expressed confidence in her appointment, stating that she will help the Court of Appeals become a leading example of thoughtful, high-quality jurisprudence.

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“I am confident that Caitlin Halligan will be a phenomenal addition to our state’s highest court, helping the New York State Court of Appeals once again become one of our country’s leading examples of thoughtful, high-quality jurisprudence,” said Gov. Kathy Hochul.

The New York State Bar Association’s president, Sherry Levin Wallach, also praised Halligan’s nomination, citing her vast litigation experience and ability to find creative solutions.

The confirmation follows months of uncertainty surrounding the court, with Chief Judge Janet DiFiore’s unexpected resignation in August and Senate Democrats’ rejection of Hochul’s first nominee, Judge Hector LaSalle, presiding justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department.

Halligan, a 56-year-old originally from Ohio, graduated from Princeton University and Georgetown University Law Center. Prior to her legal career, Halligan worked as a legislative aide, a policy associate at a non-profit organization, and taught in China.

After law school, Halligan clerked for Judge Patricia Wald and Justice Stephen Breyer before joining the law firm Howard, Smith & Levin LLP. She served in the New York Attorney General’s Office for eight years and later joined Weil, Gotshal & Manges to head their appellate practice. Halligan then worked as general counsel for the Manhattan district attorney’s office and later joined Gibson Dunn and Selendy & Gay.

Throughout her career, Halligan has been nominated several times by President Barack Obama for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, but her nomination was never directly voted on by the U.S. Senate.

The confirmation of Halligan as an associate judge restores the full bench after an eight-month vacancy following DiFiore’s resignation.

A full bench is crucial for maintaining efficiency, as it allows the court to operate at its optimal capacity, ensuring that cases are heard and decided in a timely manner. Having a full bench also increases the likelihood of a quorum being present during hearings and deliberations, and reduces the chances of deadlocks or tie votes in contentious cases.

The backlog due to a shortage of judges started to become a topic of discussion at legal events. Speaking at a recent Kings County Criminal Bar Association event, retired Justice Barry Kamins discussed the bottleneck, stating, “The Court of Appeals is facing a logjam with only six judges in place. In fact, three cases argued in the fall had to be rescheduled for a second argument, which is highly unusual. The six judges were unable to reach a consensus on these cases, so they are waiting for a new chief judge to reargue them.”

One notable case concerns a bicyclist and raises the question of whether traffic stop rules or DeBour and street encounter rules should apply. This significant case has piqued the interest of the New York Civil Liberties Union, as Kamins explained.

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