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Hochul nominates Rowan Wilson to be New York's next chief judge

The New York Court of Appeals.
New York NOW
The New York Court of Appeals.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has nominated Rowan Wilson to be New York’s next chief judge, a position responsible for leading the state’s highest court and managing the judicial branch of state government.

Wilson would make history as the first Black person to lead the Court of Appeals.

“Our courts have been clogged since the pandemic, and I will work hard with the new leadership in the Judiciary to ensure that justice is no longer denied due to insufficiencies in our system,” Hochul said.

But Wilson’s nomination would also leave another gap to be filled; Wilson is already an associate judge on the Court of Appeals. If he’s confirmed by the state Senate, that would leave his current position open.

Judge Rowan D. Wilson.
New York State Court
Judge Rowan D. Wilson.

For that, Hochul said she intends to nominate Caitlin Halligan, a partner at the law firm Selendy Gay Elsberg PLLC. Halligan was previously the solicitor general of New York, a position responsible for the state’s appellate litigation strategies.

Senate Judiciary Chair Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, reacted positively to both nominees.

“The importance of these nominees to New York’s highest court cannot be overstated, especially given recent decisions by federal courts on issues such as abortion, gun safety, labor and the environment,” Hoylman said.

The dual nominations will now kick off the confirmation process, which has sparked controversy in recent months.

Hochul initially nominated Hector LaSalle to be the state’s next chief judge after the former top jurist, Janet DiFiore, resigned last summer.

But most Democrats in the Senate voted against LaSalle, sinking his nomination on the floor. They didn’t like his record on a number of decisions, which they say could be interpreted as hostile toward unions and reproductive rights.

That doesn’t appear to be the case with Wilson, who top lawmakers had kind words for on Monday.

“I am particularly excited about the prospect of Judge Wilson leading our state’s highest court as Chief Judge,” said Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris, D-Queens. “He is exactly the type of person who can restore the integrity and reputation of the Court of Appeals after the damaging tenure of the previous administration.”

Leadership from the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus also threw their support behind Wilson.

“While his nomination will hopefully inspire a new generation of diverse judges, his record on the bench also conveys his capacity to lead and revitalize our unique judicial system,” said Assemblymember Michaelle Solages, D-Nassau.

“This transition in leadership provides an opportune time for the state to invest significantly in increasing its diversity and promoting ongoing education for judges.”

The New York State Bar Association was also quick to praise the nominees, saying Wilson’s six years on the Court of Appeals have prepared him to lead the high court.

“As a senior judge on the state’s highest court, he has a wealth of experience and the ability to lead the court system with compassion and dignity,” said Sherry Levin Wallach, the current president of the bar.

“He is an accomplished public speaker and would be an excellent representative of the New York courts both within the state and nationally.”

Wilson has often been a strong voice of dissent on the Court of Appeals during his tenure on the bench. He’s known for his unique approach to writing those dissenting opinions in plain language, making them more accessible to the general public.

Both judges would need support from two-thirds of the State Senate to be confirmed.

The Senate has not yet announced a timeline for either nomination, but legislative leaders have said they’re eager to fill the current vacancy as soon as possible.

Dan Clark is managing editor of New York NOW.