New York’s Senate confirmed Rowan Wilson as the state’s first Black chief judge Tuesday, two months after lawmakers dealt Gov. Kathy Hochul a political defeat by rejecting her initial nominee for the top court post.
Wilson has been an associate judge of the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, since 2017. Hochul tapped him earlier this month to lead the seven-member high court and oversee the state’s judicial system. The confirmation vote caps months of conflict between Hochul and her fellow Democrats in control of the Senate over the direction of the court.
“Judge Wilson has proven himself to be one of the most thoughtful, well-written and persuasive jurors in the nation, and in the history of the Court of Appeals,” state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, chair of the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee, said on the floor.
Wilson’s nomination came after Hochul’s first choice, Hector LaSalle, faced a barrage of criticism from liberal senators and their allies, who criticized decisions he made as an appeals judge.
In an unprecedented move, the Senate rejected LaSalle in February. LaSalle would have been the first Latino to lead the high court.
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Wilson, 62, is more palatable to liberals, who have praised the Harvard Law School graduate’s record on civil rights, labor and environmental issues.
Wilson also dissented in a top court ruling last year that rejected new congressional maps that had widely been seen as favoring Democrats.
That dissent has alarmed some Republicans because the Court of Appeals could possibly one day consider a Democrat-backed lawsuit seeking to compel the redrawing of New York’s congressional boundaries. The current maps helped the GOP regain control of the U.S. House last year.
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Senate Republicans described Wilson as an “activist judge,” focusing their opposition on a recent decision he wrote overturning a rape conviction. Wilson cited the local prosecutor’s years-long delay in pursuing the case.
“That result, I think, is egregious. I think it’s a misapplication of the law,” said Sen. Anthony Palumbo, the ranking Republican on the committee.
Wilson watched the debate silently from a Senate gallery. He had no comment on the way out.
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Wilson succeeds Judge Janet DiFiore, who resigned in August. His confirmation leaves a vacancy for an associate judge on the top court.
Hochul said she intends to nominate former state solicitor general Caitlin Halligan, who is currently a partner at a New York City-based law firm, to fill the associate judge vacancy.
Halligan answered questions from the Judiciary Committee earlier Tuesday, setting up an expedited confirmation process when Hochul formally makes the nomination.