New York State’s First Black Chief Judge Rowan Wilson Speaks on The Significance of Humility While Formally Being Seated During Investiture

By David Alexander

September 13, 2023

New York State’s First Black Chief Judge Rowan Wilson Speaks on The Significance of Humility While Formally Being Seated During Investiture


By David Alexander

The investiture of Chief Judge Rowan D. Wilson on Tuesday morning marked a historic moment as he was formally welcomed to his role before a standing room only crowd inside the Court of Appeals Hall. Gov. Kathy Hochul presided over the investiture and delivered the oath of office.

Above: Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals Rowan D. Wilson and New York State Bar Association President Richard Lewis.

Wilson, a graduate of Harvard Law School, became New York State’s first black chief judge in the court’s 176-year history on April 18 after being confirmed by the state Senate. He had been an associate judge of the Court of Appeals since 2017.

Wilson spoke on the importance of being humble, of cooperation and his appreciation for his fellow Court of Appeals judges’ willingness to collaborate, which elevates each of them and the court’s work.

“Thanks to the commission on judicial nomination, Gov. Hochul and the New York state Senate, I now have an even more important job, really two different, but interrelated important jobs. By more important, I mean that they come with greater responsibility. Although this job is more important, I’m still not an important person. If I start thinking of myself as an important person, I will not do my job well,” said Wilson. “I’ve come to understand that there is a fundamental corollary in that the more important your job is, the less you are able to do it alone.”

Above: NYSBA Executive Director Pamela McDevitt, President Richard Lewis, and Chief Administrative Judge Joseph Zayas.  Zayas is the first Latino to serve in the role.

He went on to discuss how the court system faces challenges and that he welcomes criticism and open discussion as a manner to improve the court.

“The challenges ahead are great and present great opportunity. The quest to achieve the best possible judicial system must be our focus, but that quest will fail without the help of you, my friends and friends to be, who truly are friends of New York and its courts,” said Wilson. “That help, by the way, includes disagreements, criticism and the identification of problems. We cannot fix what we do not know what needs to be corrected.”

Hochul spoke of Wilson’s qualifications before administrating the oath of office. She emphasized that while his appointment is a milestone, it is not the reason for his selection as chief judge.

“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,” said Hochul.

Earlier, Senior Associate Judge Jenny Rivera spoke of the significance of Wilson’s appointment and underscored his qualifications while delivering the event’s opening remarks.

“It has taken centuries to arrive at this moment. It has taken too long. Firsts are important and not an end to themselves, but because they mark the end of exclusion,” said Rivera. “A great chief judge leads by example. They are guided by their head and their heart, and he does that.”

Below: Judge Richard Sise of the Court of Claims, Presiding Justice Elizabeth A. Garry, Third Department, and NYSBA President Richard Lewis.


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