Rowan Wilson would serve a 14-year term as an associate judge of the Court of Appeals if confirmed by the state Senate.
The vacancy occurred with the Dec. 31 mandatory retirement of Eugene Pigott Jr., who reached age 70 during 2016. Pigott joined the court in 2006 after terms as a state Supreme Court and Appellate Division justice.
Wilson, 56, is a partner in the litigation department in the Manhattan office of Cravath, Swaine & Moore, where he has worked for 30 years. The firm also has an office in London.
“With decades of experience in complex commercial litigation and his leadership role in the firm’s pro bono work, I am confident he has the intellect, integrity and compassion we need to continue moving New York forward,” Cuomo said of Wilson.
If confirmed, Wilson would be Cuomo’s seventh pick for the seven-member high court, a feat also accomplished by his father, the late Gov. Mario Cuomo, during his three terms in office.
The state Commission on Judicial Nominations forwarded Wilson’s name with six others to the governor on Dec. 1. Andrew Cuomo had until Sunday to choose a nominee.
The Senate has 30 days to confirm or reject Wilson.
Vin Bonventre, a professor at Albany Law School who also writes the New York Court Watcher blog, says confirmation “is a near certainty.”
That’s due not only to Wilson’s sterling credentials, he said, but also to the Senate typically rubber-stamping governors’ court nominees since the process of appointing, rather than electing, was adopted 40 years ago.
“Like his father, the current governor has created a very diverse court,” Bonventre wrote.
But Bonventre pointed out that with Pigott gone, only one sitting judge is a Republican; the rest are Democrats like Cuomo.
Wilson would become the second African American jurist on the court – the first time that has occurred, according to Bonventre. The court also has two Hispanic judges; four judges are women, including Chief Judge Janet DiFiore.
Wilson, who lives on Long Island, earned his J.D. cum laude in 1984 from Harvard Law School, where he was a member of the Civil Rights/Civil Liberties Law Review, according to his law firm biography. He then served a two-year clerkship with the late James Browning, then chief judge of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Wilson joined Cravath Swain in 1986 and became a partner in 1992.
His broad practice in complex litigation includes antitrust and competition; intellectual property; contract; securities fraud; entertainment and media; and civil rights and employment, according to the biography.
Wilson has been on the list of nominees for the high court five times before, including in 2015 when DiFiore was picked for the chief judge slot following the retirement of Jonathan Lippman.
A fellow nominee in that round, A. Gail Prudenti, former chief administrative judge overseeing day-to-day operations of the statewide court system, praised Wilson as “a respected authority in the legal community” with “passion, qualifications and willingness to serve.”
Prudenti, now interim dean of Hofstra Law School on Long Island, noted Wilson would be the first Long Islander in 20 years to serve on the high court if confirmed.
Cuomo’s announcement of Wilson’s nomination said the next scheduled vacancy on the high court will not come until 2022 due to another mandatory retirement.
New York State supreme and appellate judges must retire by the end of the year in which they reach age 70. Supreme Court justices can be certified for three additional two-year terms based on need and competency.
A ballot proposal to amend the state constitution to raise the age to 80 was defeated in 2013.