By Stacy M. Brown,
Judge Rowan Wilson was recently celebrated by family, friends and state lawmakers for his groundbreaking achievement as the first Black chief judge of the state’s highest court. The swearing-in at the New York Court of Appeals in Albany marked a significant milestone in the Empire State’s judicial history, with Gov. Kathy Hochul on hand to administer the oath of office.
“My new role has brought some new challenges, challenges of a very different nature than studying the law, the facts, and the arguments,” the judge shared. Wilson, 62, expressed a commitment to maintaining independence without becoming an adversary, underscoring his intention to work collaboratively with his team to enhance the lives of all New Yorkers.
Hochul, a Democrat, nominated Wilson after her initial nominee, Justice Hector LaSalle, faced rejection by the Senate. LaSalle would have been the state’s first Hispanic chief judge. Wilson, who had previously served as an associate judge of the Court of Appeals since 2017, assumed the role following the resignation of Judge Janet DiFiore in August 2022. The governor expressed confidence in Wilson’s ability to restore faith in the government and the judicial system.
“I feel confident you’ll be able to restore people’s faith in the government, restore faith in this bench, and restore confidence that this court will do the right thing,” Hochul affirmed. “This is a milestone, but that is not why he is sitting here today. It is not why he was selected. He has demonstrated through his years already on this court. The intellect, the understanding, the ability to write in such a powerful way, and to really make decisions that matter.”
Wilson’s appointment garnered favor from Democrats and liberals who viewed him as an advocate for civil rights, labor, and environmental concerns. As an associate judge, he issued a dissenting opinion in a pivotal decision last year, wherein the court majority determined that the state’s Democratic leadership had employed an unconstitutional process in redrawing congressional districts.
“To Gov. Hochul, the executive branch, and to members of the state Legislature, I can assure you that checks and balances means independent– not adversarial,” Wilson said. “My team and I look forward to working with you collaboratively to improve the lives of all New Yorkers.”