With the confirmation of Rowan Wilson to the New York Court of Appeals, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has now picked all of the judges on the state’s highest court. He’s the first governor to do so since his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo.
Rowan Wilson, a low-key and self-effacing corporate lawyer specializing in antitrust and intellectual property, 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, has never served as a judge before.
He 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 New York State 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 was accompanied by his wife and young children, including his five-year-old daughter who kept busy with her coloring books in the back of the hearing room.
Wilson 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 state Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Brad Hoylman of Manhattan, made an allusion to President Donald Trump’s negative tweets about various judges, including Trump’s criticism of the judges deciding the validity of Trump’s executive order on immigration.
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 did not 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 judges, including the Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, a former Westchester County district attorney.
Cuomo has now chosen all of the judges on the high court. Bonventre said, 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.