With the confirmation of Rowan Wilson to the New York Court of Appeals, Governor Andrew Cuomo has now picked all of the judges on the state’s highest court, the first governor to do so since his father, former Governor Mario Cuomo.
Rowan Wilson, a low-key and self-effacing corporate lawyer specializing in anti-trust and intellectual property, among other things, as well as civil rights law, appeared at a friendly hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Wilson, who has represented corporations like Time Warner and IBM, never served as a judge before, faced questions from Committee Chair John Bonacic.
“Do you want to comment a little bit about what you perceive as your temperament?” Bonacic asked.
Wilson said he was told that the bar association, when reviewing his nomination, could not find anyone who said anything bad about him. But he volunteered some criticism of his own performance at his prestigious New York City law firm, where he’s worked for the past quarter century. He says some of the partners were concerned, saying “you’re not yelling at anyone”, and they took it to mean he didn’t care enough about his job.
“I said ‘that’s part of my make-up, I can’t possibly change that. That’s just who I am’,” Wilson said.
Wilson, accompanied by his wife and young children, including a five year-old daughter who was busy with her coloring books in the back of the hearing room, told Senators he doesn’t have a “political ideology”.
The cordial hearing and confirmation stand in contrast the bitter partisan battles taking place in Washington over the U.S. Supreme Court nominees. The ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Senator Brad Hoylman, made an allusion to President Trump’s negative tweets about various judges, including, most recently Trump’s criticism of the judges deciding the validity of Trump’s executive order on immigration. Senator Hoylman says an independent judiciary is essential.
“To make certain that our highest court in New York ends up confirming a judge that will maintain the separation of powers,” Hoylman said. “And be able to stand up to all other branches of government.”
Wilson was asked about Trump’s executive order banning travel from seven majority Muslim countries. He said he did want to answer because there’s a “realistic” chance that the case could come before New York’s high court in some form.
Wilson was confirmed unanimously by the Senate.
Albany Law School professor and court expert Vince Bonventre says Wilson is very well-qualified and will brings experience in commercial litigation to the high court.
“You need people with different backgrounds on the court of last resort,” Bonventre said. “He certainly will add that, and that’s really terrific.”
Wilson’s confirmation marks the first time that the court will have two African American judges at once. In addition, the seven member court has two Hispanic judges and four women jurors, including the chief judge, former Westchester County district Attorney Janet DiFiore.
Andrew Cuomo has now chosen all of the judges on the high court. Bonventre says to the governor’s credit, the progressive to moderate leaning Cuomo has not picked all ultra liberals.
“It’s a gradual spectrum from the most liberal to the most conservative,” he said. “You don’t see three always on one side, three always on one side, and one swing vote. You don’t see that.”
The last governor to fill the entire court was the present governor’s father, Mario Cuomo. Mario Cuomo broke new ground on the court. He appointed the first woman judge, former Chief Judge Judith Kaye, as well as the first African American judge on the court.