Earlier today, Governor Kathy Hochul delivered remarks at the investiture of Court of Appeals Chief Judge Rowan Wilson.
A rush transcript of the Governor’s remarks is available below:
Thank you, Judge Rivera, for reminding us of not just the solemnity of this occasion, but the historic nature of this occasion. And I truly appreciate your ability to remind us in a visual way to look at these portraits. It reminds me of walking down the Hall of Governors, in fact. But we are here to not just make history, but to start a new era, begin a new era for the state of New York. One that does reflect our values as a people. And so, it is a great privilege for me to preside over, in my two years as governor, my third investiture, so I feel a little bit of responsibility for espousing a certain individual I’m looking for in terms of legal character, personal character, ability, but also to remind the rest of New York that we have a court that looks like the rest of New York.
And that is an important statement of my priorities as governor, but also a tribute to all the individuals who are joined with us here today. And I do thank you, Judge Rivera, Michael Garcia, Madaline Singas, Anthony Cannataro, Shirley Troutman, Caitlin Halligan, and all those who have served in the past. I understand that there is a strong mentorship program, even if informal, where those who have been there before have adopted and are holding the hands and helping our newer members. And as the person who appointed the newer members, I’m grateful for you using your talents as well.
The many elected officials in this room, I want to recognize them. My partners in the Senate, an important role in this process as well – Senator, Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris and Chairman of the Judiciary, Brad Hoylman-Sigal, I want to thank them for their presence here today, our assemblymember. Also, Liz Fine. I could not find a finer judge selector than Liz Fine who helps me identify the very best. And to my entire team who has worked so hard. And Barbara Underwood. Any time we have a case in your hands, I feel very confident of the outcome. So, thank you for your leadership in such an important role as well. And our mayor, Kathy Sheehan. It’s been great to see her at so many events and reminding us of the connectivity of us to this great city as well.
And to the family — we know what our families go through when we put our heads up into public service, whether it’s in the judiciary or legislative or executive branches. And they’re the ones who sometimes suffer the slings and arrows. And so, to Grace, I thank you for being the bulwark of the family, having to endure the other additional stress of seeing a loved one go through the trials and tribulations of a process. And to the daughters who are here, I know we have two out of three, I believe one’s on the way, we’ll get to her when she gets here, but I want to thank Isabel, Anna and Elinor and your brother for joining us as well.
So, the most important responsibility of a judge I’m finding is the ability to nominate who sits in these seats. It’s critical. It can change the trajectory of not just the body of jurisprudence, but also the path we’re on as a state because New York State has always had that reputation of leading, not just in what we do legislatively and executive, but also people look to our decisions. And that’s something I’m very proud of, but I knew it conveys a certain responsibility on me to select the very best, the very brightest. And those who have had the life experiences to be able to relate to those who come before with a sense of not just knowledge of the law, but also empathy, which is a value I put a great deal of faith in.
So, having an individual who meets all my high standards, and I assure you they’re very high, sitting here today, but also the path that he has taken throughout life, overcoming adversity in his own life, will make him be that person who has that sympathetic ear. And I would say it should not have taken over 176 years to get to a point where we have a person of color sitting in this seat.
But this is the path we’re on and we’re making progress and I want New Yorkers to know that. So, this is a milestone. But that is not why he is sitting here today. That is not why he was selected. He has demonstrated through his years already on this Court the intellect, the understanding, the ability to write in such a powerful way and to really make decisions that matter.
So, I thank him for his service to this point and demonstrating to me that you were prepared to ascend to this next level. I said I wanted someone that had intelligence and conviction, someone who could unite this existing Court – that’s so important to me, so critically important – that we have a team here that works together, respects each other, elevates each other, listens to each other intently behind closed doors, but comes out here with, as often as possible, a united front to convey the confidence that people have in the decisions.
That was important to me. And I also take note of the fact that as our Nation’s Supreme Court continues sliding backwards, stripping away rights that we took for granted throughout most of our lives. We also have the bulwarks of defense in our states. That’s not just what we do with the legislature and my role. It’s also, we look to the courts and as the Supreme Court swerves down this path they’re on, and God knows where it will end up – taking away women’s right to choose, taking away my ability as Governor to protect people from concealed guns, you name it, they’ve been there.
I needed someone that could be held in such high regard that when he spoke, rendered decisions, represented this court, representing the state, that he’d speak with authority and people would understand, no, this is New York. We do things differently here. So, the thought, the care, the brilliance you bring to your decisions, Judge Rowan, and why you’re sitting here. And you’ve proven yourself time and time again. And when we first had a chance to get to know each other, you spoke about your family’s influence on you. Your father was a teacher, your mother, very well educated, couldn’t find a job because she was blind.
You talked about going to the grocery store with her and helping her pick out food from the shelves because she couldn’t read the labels. As a child, you had to become the adult so early in life. And it also taught you that people who have disabilities, and have other challenges, they have the same rights as everyone else. And they need to be enshrined in our laws for those who don’t understand that those rights are part of who we are as a people.
So, you’re driven, motivated, found yourself at Harvard, Harvard Law School, clerking for a judge, Judge Browning. If you know who Judge Browning is, the picture of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, that was Judge Browning holding the Bible for the President.
And you came to New York becoming one of the youngest and one of the first people of color at your law firm, a very prestigious firm, but you didn’t say, I’m going to end my career, making a lot of money, you decided to make a lot of difference. And that’s how you found your path in public service and to this bench.
And throughout your career that you’ve demonstrated, you will fight for those rights of people. Those who are counting on us to do the right thing.
And I also think back about some of our forefathers, again, they’re mostly fathers, one of my predecessors as Governor, John Jay, the founding father of our country, one of our founding fathers, first justice of the Supreme Court, and had been Governor.
You think about the legacy, the stories of the past, but I’m focused on the stories of the future about what they’ll say about our time – the people in these positions, the decisions they rendered to move our state forward, adhering to our legacy of progress, moving people forward. So, I think about this courthouse, I think about the people on the wall, I think about the people I’m sitting with here, and I feel confident, I truly do.
I feel confident they’ll be able to restore people’s faith in government, something we all have an obligation to do, restore faith in this bench, and restore confidence that this court will always do the right thing. We’ve always done the right thing. Go back to 1860. This Court ordered the release of eight slaves who were traveling to New York, a free state, despite the Dred Scott decision.
New York State did that. We said, “No, we don’t agree. We’re freeing these people.” In 1904, the Court upheld the right of the legislature to regulate dangerous working conditions. The Supreme Court overturned this in Lochner, one of the worst decisions of the 20th century when it comes to the rights of working men and women.
But we stood up. We did the right thing. That’s what we do. So, as I administer this oath of office today, it’s not just to preside over this bench, it is also to oversee the entire court system. And with Judge Zayas and others who are truly committed individuals, we must make a difference. We have to start freeing up our courtrooms, taking in cases, expediting because we have delayed justice for far too long.
Our family court system needs attention. We need to take care of people when they’re suffering the most. And that’s the power that you also have, Judge Rowan. And I’m counting on that to change. And that’s how we make people feel they have value again, take care of them when they’re at their greatest need.
So, I have confidence that Judge Wilson will strengthen this court, our justice system, and the public. And I’ll simply say one more thing before we administer that important oath. Judge Lynwood Smith wrote a letter in support of your nomination. He wrote that your work exemplified the very principles that undergird the legal profession and that you are every inch the equal of one of the most influential judges we’ve ever had, Benjamin Cardozo.
I consider that high praise. And I do believe that in the future, people will be quoting what you do with reverence to future nominees, decades, if not a century from now. That’s how confident I am in this individual. And as we begin this oath, no oath carries greater weight than the one we’ll uphold here today, upholding the constitution of our state and our nation.
Those words mean something, particularly at a time when our country has been under attack, literally, physically. We’re here to defend it. We defend it in rooms like this all over America. And I am so proud to be associated with the state, this court, and this new Chief Judge as I administer the oath. Let’s begin. Thank you.