On Tuesday, April 18th, the New York State Senate confirmed Judge Rowan Wilson as the Chief Justice of the New York Court of Appeals. The confirmation came after the State Senate voted 40-19 in his favor. He became the first black justice to assume the position of Chief Justice in New York’s highest court.
Wilson’s confirmation comes after Governor Kathy Hochul’s first nominee for the position, Judge Hector LaSalle, was firmly rejected by the Democrat-controlled Senate.
“Judge Rowan Wilson is a highly qualified jurist with a keen sense of fairness and a deep commitment to justice. Throughout his tenure on the bench, he has proven himself to be a thoughtful leader who recognizes the power of the judiciary to impact the lives of all New Yorkers,” Governor Hochul said in a statement published after Wilson’s nomination. ” I am confident that he will use this experience and his fair-minded approach that has guided his time on the Court of Appeals while serving as Chief Judge.”
Wilson, 62, is a native of California. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1984, becoming a commercial attorney at Cravath, Swaine & Moore for more than 30 years. Wilson became Associate Judge of the New York Court of Appeals in 2013 after he was appointed by former Governor Andrew Cuomo.
LittleAfrica News previously reported on Wilson’s nomination to the position of chief justice. His ascension to the highest court in New York was not as simple and straightforward. He was a replacement nominee for LaSalle, who was rejected by the Senate for historic legal decisions he had made in court. While the process leading to Wilson’s nomination was complicated, his confirmation moved expeditiously compared to LaSalle’s. Wilson will replace former Chief Justice Janet DiFiore, who resigned last year.
Wilson has been applauded for his legal skills and labeled as an intelligent and worthy Chief Justice. “Rowan Wilson is among the highest legal intellects I have ever encountered and has an approach to decision-making that reflects the best of what our society deserves,” said State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Queens). “He will be a groundbreaking jurist who will elevate New York’s Court of Appeals to its rightful and historical place as a leader in American law.”
However, Wilson’s confirmation has not left everyone satisfied, with State Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt expressing the opinion that Wilson’s confirmation was simply a political move to transform the Court of Appeals into a left-leaning court.
“We clearly saw an interesting contrast between how Judge LaSalle was treated and what was viewed as qualifying [or] disqualifying,” Ortt said. “And then we have Judge Rowan Wilson, [with a] series of very questionable decisions, and yet none of those were disqualifying factors to be the chief judge.”
Ortt was referring to historic decisions that Wilson had made. Sexual assault survivors protested the fact that Wilson contributed to the voiding of a rape conviction that would have sent the perpetrator to jail for a full 12-year sentence. Wilson reasoned that the alleged rapist’s right to a speedy trial had been violated by the fact that after the occurrence of the rape, it took officials three years to obtain a DNA sample from the perpetrator.
“It’s a horrible feeling to have to reverse a conviction in that circumstance,” Wilson said as he justified why he made the decision. “It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s a function of how our judicial system works.”
Wilson also gave a legal opinion that said, Happy, an elephant at the Brooklyn Zoo, could legally fight for its right to freedom by invoking the legal principle of habeas corpus that grants to people the right against indefinite detention.
“We should recognize Happy’s right to petition for her liberty not just because she is a wild animal who is not meant to be caged and displayed,” Wilson wrote at the time, “but because the rights we confer on others define who we are as a society.”
”Judge Wilson will bring honor to our court and will help lead our court in a new direction that will stand up for all New Yorkers,” Senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said.