Caitlin Halligan in 2020.

Caitlin Halligan in 2020. Credit: AP/Business Wire

ALBANY — Caitlin Halligan, a former Obama nominee for a federal judgeship, was confirmed Wednesday to join New York’s highest court.

Halligan, 56, was approved by the State Senate in a swift 48-12 vote — one day after the chamber, in a more contentious proceeding, elevated Rowan D. Wilson from associate judge to chief judge of the Court of Appeals. Both were nominated by Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat.

Wilson, one of the most liberal judges on the court, replaced Janet DiFiore as chief judge. Halligan filled Wilson’s spot as associate judge, giving the court a full complement of seven judges for the first time since August, when DiFiore stepped down.

The 1-2 punch of Wilson and Halligan had some analysts and lawmakers predicting the court will move to the left on civil and criminal matters. Under DiFiore, the court moved to the right even while the legislative and executive branches in state government were moving left.

Wilson, during his six years on the court, had become a leading liberal voice, frequently disagreeing with DiFiore while writing sharp dissents. A change at the helm historically foretells a shift in the court, said Vincent Bonventre, a longtime court analyst and a professor at Albany Law School of Union University.

“You’re going to have the former dissenter leading the court and the leader of the court has a great influence on the court,” Bonventre said, citing not only DiFiore, but also Jonathan Lippman and Judith Kaye as influential chief judges.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens with Wilson,” Bonventre said.

Further, even though Halligan didn’t spur as much opposition from Republicans, who saw her as more moderate than Wilson, Bonventre said she should be expected to be a solid liberal vote. He noted that she served as the state solicitor general under Democratic administrations and was nominated by President Barack Obama for the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

“She was vetted by the Obama administration and he thought enough of her that he nominated her twice,” Bonventre said. “He certainly didn’t want a conservative or a moderate on that court. He wanted a liberal. She might not be as liberal as Judge Wilson, but I expect her to be liberal — certainly more liberal than DiFiore.”

Republicans praised Halligan’s credentials — which include arguing six cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, dozens before the state Court of Appeals and working as a private lawyer.

“She is the most experienced appellate attorney we have possibly seen for the Court of Appeals,” said Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But they objected to the process in which Hochul effectively nominated Wilson and Halligan simultaneously.

Hochul was able to do so after signing a law last month that permits a governor to elevate an associate judge to chief judge and select a replacement for the associate vacancy. Republicans have said they are weighing a lawsuit to overturn the law — but have admitted booting Halligan could result in Hochul nominating an even more liberal candidate.

Then again, it’s not Republicans who might sue in the future. Bonventre suggested it was possible that come the day Halligan sides with the majority in a 4-3 decision at the Court of Appeals, the losing party files suit to claim Halligan is improperly on the bench.

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