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New York state confirms new chief judge, installing liberal nominee


New York’s Senate on Tuesday easily confirmed Governor Kathy Hochul’s nominee to lead the state’s highest court, elevating a judge favored by liberal lawmakers.

Rowan Wilson was approved by a vote of 40 to 19 as chief judge of the New York State Court of Appeals. Wilson will be the first Black judge in the role, which also oversees the state’s court system.

Wilson said at a hearing before the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday that the court should play a prominent role on the national stage, especially “in the face of the U.S. Supreme Court’s retreat from several of its seminal decisions.”

Wilson, who has been an associate judge on the Court of Appeals since 2017, is viewed as a liberal and has issued rulings favorable to civil rights, unions and criminal defendants.

Vincent Bonventre, a professor and expert on the state’s courts at Albany Law School, said Wilson is known for his intellectual heft and his dissents, which often oppose the government and business interests.

Wilson dissented from prominent decisions by former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, including a ruling last year that maps of the state’s congressional districts redrawn by Democratic lawmakers violated the state’s constitution.

He was questioned by lawmakers during his confirmation hearing over a recent ruling he authored tossing a rape conviction over delays in acquiring evidence. Wilson defended the ruling while acknowledging it was “not an easy thing to do.”

Wilson’s swift confirmation comes after Hochul’s first nominee for the post, appellate Judge Hector LaSalle, was rejected by the state Senate amid criticism from Democratic lawmakers about his record on abortion and labor issues.

Wilson, a former partner at corporate law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, was first nominated to the Court of Appeals by former Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

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