Rowan Wilson was unanimously approved as the new chief judge of the Court of Appeals by the New York State Senate, by a remarkable win of 40-19 votes.
On April 18, 2023, Wilson made history as he was granted the title of Chief Judge, and to make it even better Wilson is the First Black Chief Judge in New York’s history. Wilson is living proof along with Barrack Obama and many more from the Black community who have excelled beyond the boundaries that were established, encouraging others to push forward.
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The confirmation follows months of political squabbling and the historic denial of Gov. Hochul’s original selection, Hector LaSalle, who was ostracized by other Democrats because they thought he was too conservative for the position.
After 25 years as a partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, Judge Wilson spent six years on the state’s highest court as an associate justice. Additionally, Wilson served as the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem’s chairman for 21 years while the organization offered legal services to the neighborhood.
Wilson’s nomination was opposed by a number of women’s organizations and activists as a result of the majority decision he wrote in a contentious rape conviction case last month. The prosecution was accused of violating the rights of the accused by failing to get a DNA sample or indicting him until years after the occurrence, according to the Court of Appeals, which reversed the conviction in a 4-2 ruling. Democrats opposed Wilson’s candidacy despite these reservations but did so when he defended it at a recent three-hour confirmation hearing.
Peter Martin, Director of Judicial Accountability at the Center for Community Alternatives claimed, “Since August, we have called for a Chief Judge who has demonstrated commitment to using the law to protect vulnerable New Yorkers, including tenants facing evictions, incarcerated people, and workers attempting to unionize,” He added that the “Hon. Rowan D. Wilson’s confirmation had given New Yorkers exactly that kind of Chief Judge.
Martin remarked, “As an Associate Judge on the Court of Appeals for the last six years, Judge Wilson has distinguished himself as a champion of marginalized people, and New Yorkers across the state will benefit from his leadership of the court system.” He also noted that with combined efforts they will be able to build a powerful affiliation, “Together, we achieved this victory by building a powerful coalition and holding the line against an initial Chief Judge nominee who fell short of what our state deserves.”
The Legal Aid Society highlighted the historical importance of Judge Rowan Wilson’s nomination in response to the confirmation.
The Legal Aid Society noted in a statement, “The confirmation of Judge Rowan D. Wilson as the first Black Chief Judge of New York is a historic moment for the state. His confirmation marks a significant step in breaking down the systemic barriers that continue to stand in the way of progress, and we applaud the members of the New York State Senate who voted to help usher in this new era of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the State’s highest court.”
The group shared within the release statement, “The lack of diversity in judicial appointments has undoubtedly contributed to the inequality in our legal system. It is only through diversifying our court system that we can begin to unravel these implicit biases that negatively impact millions of Black and Latinx New Yorkers moving through the state court system.” It added, “Judge Wilson is thoughtful and intelligent, and we celebrate the new and long overdue perspective he will bring to the position of Chief Judge.”
Wilson’s former associate judge post on the Court of Appeals will become vacant as he moves into the chief judge position. Wilson will be replaced as an associate judge by Caitlin Halligan, a former state solicitor general, as the governor of New York, Governor Hochul, has previously said.
Due to a possible lawsuit by Senate Republicans, it is questionable whether former State Solicitor General Halligan would join the State’s highest court. A partnership between the governor’s office and Senate Democrats that some good governance organizations believe to be unlawful might be halted by this court action.
Halligan’s legal skills were highly praised by both parties at the meeting on Tuesday, despite the fact that the committee did not vote on her candidacy. Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Brad Hoylman. Additionally, Halligan represented the state in court appeals proceedings as the state’s solicitor general.
Despite being opposed by Republicans in the U.S. Senate, Halligan was nominated by then-President Barack Obama to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Additionally, six times she was a finalist for the Court of Appeals.
Bichotte Hermelyn, who represents the 42nd Assembly District in Brooklyn, “Hon. Wilson is a highly accomplished and pioneering judge who reflects and understands the wonderful diversity of our State while providing a crucial perspective with decades of prestigious experience in the private and public sector.”
“Judge Wilson has a longstanding track record of fair, prudent, and impartial judicial rulings in the Appellate Court that have uplifted New Yorkers while upholding our Democratic values, and he is well-suited to lead our state’s highest court system.”
She remarked, “With decisions being made by federal courts on vital issues including abortion, gun rights, and others affecting our most vulnerable communities, the importance of having the right chief judge in New York cannot be overstated enough,” Bichotte Hermelyn added, “This is a historic and well-deserved nomination for a trailblazer, dedicated public servant, and champion for justice.”