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Hochul nominates new chief judge in New York after initial rejection

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New York Governor Kathy Hochul has nominated a judge to lead the state’s highest court after lawmakers rejected the Democrat’s previous pick from her own party.

Rowan Wilson, an associate judge on the Court of Appeals, was named as chief judge of the same court, overseeing the state’s sprawling state judicial system. If confirmed, Wilson would be the first Black judge in the post, replacing Janet DiFiore who stepped down in August.

“Judge Wilson’s sterling record of upholding justice and fairness makes him well-suited to lead the court at this critical time,” Hochul said in a statement.

Senate Democrats rejected Hochul’s initial pick for chief judge, Hector LaSalle, in a floor vote in February, saying he was too moderate and had several decisions that were anti-abortion rights or anti-labor — positions he disputed during his hourslong testimony in January.

But Democrats were on board with Wilson, who is deemed as part of the more liberal side of the court. They said it is important to pick a candidate that will defend abortion rights in the face of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and the recent Texas case to ban the abortion pill mifepristone.

“I am particularly excited about the prospect of Judge Wilson leading our state’s highest court as chief judge,” Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris said in a statement. “He is exactly the type of person who can restore the integrity and reputation of the Court of Appeals after the damaging tenure of the previous administration.”

Hochul is able to nominate both Wilson and Halligan from the same pool of candidates after lawmakers approved a law change earlier this month. Previously, each pick to the Court of Appeals required a separate list from the Commission on Judicial Nomination.

Hochul said Wilson has also agreed to recommend Joseph Zayas, an appellate court judge in New York City, as chief administrative judge to oversee the entire court system.

The Democratic governor began her year with a rocky start when the Senate Judiciary Committee, for the first time since governors nominated chief judges in the 1970s, rejected LaSalle. After a GOP lawsuit pushed Democrats for a full floor vote, LaSalle was then voted down on the Senate floor.

Several others expressed their support for Hochul’s latest picks, including Senate Judiciary Chair Brad Hoylman-Sigal. The Senate will need to soon take up confirmation hearings on both judicial nominees.

“The importance of these nominees to New York’s highest court cannot be overstated, especially given recent decisions by federal courts on issues such as abortion, gun safety, labor and the environment,” Hoylman-Sigal said in a statement. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to conduct fair and thorough hearings to examine the extensive records of Associate Judge Rowan and Ms. Halligan.”

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