Monday, January 16, 2017

Gov. Cuomo Picks Rowan Wilson for the High Court

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced today that he has nominated Rowan Wilson for the Court of Appeals, New York State's highest Court. If confirmed by the state Senate, Wilson will fill the vacancy created by the departure of Judge Eugene Pigott--the latest victim of New York's (moronic) mandatory age-70 retirement for Court of Appeals Judges.
With this nomination, Cuomo will have selected the entire membership of the 7-Judge Court. His father, Mario Cuomo, was able to do the same thing while he was Governor. Like his father, the current Governor has created a very diverse Court. When Wilson is confirmed, there will be 2 African-Americans on the Court for the first time in its history--which makes this nomination seem quite fitting for Martin Luther King Day.

(And Wilson's confirmation is a near certainty. That is so not only because he is superbly qualified by education, experience, and other measurable factors--e.g., Harvard educated, senior litigation partner at Cravath, and admirable pro bono work . But also because the state Senate has typically been little more than a rubber stamp for the various Governors' nominations since the appointment process was adopted 40 years ago.)

In addition to having 2 African-American Judges (the other being Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam), the entirely Andrew Cuomo-appointed Court of Appeals will have:
2 Hispanic Judges (Judges Jenny Rivera and Michael Garcia),
4 women (Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Judges Rivera, Abdus-Salaam, and Leslie Stein),
2 Upstaters (Judges Stein [the Capital Region] and Eugene Fahey [Buffalo]),
2 from New York City (Judges Rivera and Abdus-Salaam [Also, Judge Garcia was born in the City and nominee Wilson works there.]),
2 who live just north of the City in Westchester County (Chief Judge DiFiore and Judge Garcia),
1 who lives on Long Island (nominee Wilson),
3 who were appellate judges (Judges Abdus-Salaam, Stein, and Fahey),
4 with experience as trial judges (Chief Judge DiFiore and Judges Abdus-Salaam, Stein, and Fahey),
2 from private practice (Judge Garcia and nominee Wilson),
2 prosecutors who ran prosecutorial offices (Chief Judge DiFiore [Westchester County District Attorney] and Judge Garcia [U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York]),
1 academic (Judge Rivera),
6 different law schools (St. John's [DiFiore], NYU [Rivera], Columbia [Abdus-Salaam], Albany [Stein and Garcia], SUNY Buffalo [Fahey], and Harvard [Wilson]),
1 Italian-American (Chief Judge DiFiore), 1 Puerto Rican-American (Judge Rivera), 1 Jewish-American (Judge Stein), 1 Irish-American (Judge Fahey),
etc., etc., etc.
[BTW, contrast that diversity with that of the U.S. Supreme Court.]

But in one area there is little diversity: political party. With Judge Pigott gone, and Rowan Wilson nominated and confirmed, there will be 6 democrats and only 1 Republican on the Court. Governor Andrew Cuomo's 7 nominees to fill New York’s high Court have included just 1 Republican, Judge Michael Garcia. Although the Governor, like his father, has prized diversity in his nominations, he has differed with his father in this particular regard.

Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo actually appointed several Republicans to the Court. Judges Richard Simons, Stewart Hancock, and Howard Levine, as well as Chief Judge Sol Wachtler, were all Republicans selected by the first Governor Cuomo. Indeed, this will be the very first time in the history of the New York Court of Appeals since the appointment system was adopted 40 years ago, that there will be only 1 Republican on the 7-Judge Court.

This is not to say, however, that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s nominations have been driven by partisan ideology. In fact, it would be nothing short of blind political partisanship to charge that he has created some ultra-liberal Democratic Court. No objective observation of the current Court could render such a conclusion. His nominations and the resulting Court comprise a varied ideological spectrum. His Democratic appointees are hardly of one stripe.

Nor have Cuomo’s appointees been sharply divided along party lines—not at all like the Supreme Court. On the contrary, any serious analysis of the current Court’s voting and decisional record would reveal a full and varied liberal-to-conservative spectrum. The Cuomo appointees make up an ideologically—even if not political party—diverse Court. It is ideologically varied and diverse. It is not sharply split into competing left and right wings.

Yes, Judge Jenny Rivera’s record can fairly be characterized as liberal. And Judge Michael Garcia’s as conservative. But this is not a Court where half the Judges consistently align on the liberal side of the issues against the other half of the Judges consistently aligning with the conservative side. No, this is nothing like the Supreme Court.

Again, yes, some of the Judges have voting records that can fairly be said to be more liberal than others, and some of have records that are more conservative. But this Court, despite being lopsidedly Democratic in political party membership, has no staunchly liberal versus staunchly conservative divide that consistently splits the Judges along those lines.
(The voting and decisional records of the current Court have been examined in some detail on New Court Court Watcher. See e.g., Observations.)

IAE, those of us who watch this Court—and especially those of us who have had the privilege of working at the Court and take great pride in its historically being one of the nation’s finest institutions of government—look forward to the confirmation proceedings and to Rowan Wilson joining Chief Judge DiFiore and her colleagues on this very fine bench.

For more about Rowan Wilson: