Caitlin Halligan had never served as a judge when she joined the Court of Appeals — making her judicial leanings a mystery. Don Pollard / Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
The rulings shed light on the leanings of Caitlin Halligan, the court’s newest judge and frequent tie-breaker.
By Sam Mellins

A recent spate of rulings suggests that New York’s top court is headed in a more progressive direction, especially concerning the rights of people accused of crimes. Caitlin Halligan, the court’s newest judge, has sided with the more liberal judges in several closely divided cases, often casting the deciding vote in favor of defendants’ rights.

Halligan’s votes shed light on her liberal leanings as a jurist — something that was unsure upon her ascension in April — and they could herald a dramatic change from the court’s prior makeup. Under the leadership of former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, the Court of Appeals was a friendly place for prosecutors, and a hostile one for defendants. In her final year as chief, DiFiore and her allies on the bench ruled against defendants in the large majority of cases, including in rulings that expanded the power of police to question suspects or search private homes without warrants.

The investiture of Court of Appeals Chief Judge Rowan Wilson on September 12, 2023. Darren McGee / Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
While the United States Supreme Court seeks to restrict the government's ability to regulate, the New York Court of Appeals is broadening it.
By Sam Mellins

A decision from New York’s top court last month weakens one of the most powerful tools used to fight state regulations on topics from promoting vaccines to discouraging tobacco and soda consumption.

In a case known as Matter of Stevens, the Court of Appeals ruled that in limited circumstances, law enforcement can search a DNA database to investigate a crime if they get permission from the state Commission on Forensic Services. Though prosecutors cheered the ruling and civil rights groups criticized it, its direct impact is likely limited, as the database is only used a handful of times a year.

But the reasoning upon which the ruling relied could have a much greater impact. The decision by the court’s new chief judge, Rowan Wilson, narrows the scope of a landmark Court of Appeals ruling under which judges have overturned state regulations for nearly 40 years.

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New York could become the first state to regulate deforestation in companies’ supply chains. Getty Images via Canva; Wikimedia Commons
While Hochul considers a bill to pressure state contractors to stop deforestation, the massive food supplier is voicing concerns to her administration.
By Julia Rock

The multinational food corporation Sysco has mounted a quiet campaign to lobby Governor Kathy Hochul as she decides whether to sign what is arguably the most consequential climate legislation on her desk.

The bill aims to leverage New York’s massive spending power to stop companies that contract with the state government from contributing to tropical deforestation, the cause of more than 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. It passed the state legislature with bipartisan support in June, months after the European Union enacted a similar measure.

Jails can skirt HALT regulations if they offer seven hours of out-of-cell time. There’s little guidance for what those hours should look like. Static: Tristan Bowersox | Illustration: Maia Hibbett
New York imposes strict regulations on "segregated confinement." What if it's just called "confinement"?
By Eliza Fawcett

When a new state law came down limiting the use of solitary confinement, officials at the Broome County jail took a simple route to compliance: Say you don’t use it.

Terrance Mortenson, 22, said he spent more than 60 consecutive days in isolation at the jail this year. Every day, he could leave his cell for seven hours and enter a larger room with other people being punished with isolation sentences. There was little to do: no television, no electronic tablets for video calls, no activities. People mostly walked around in circles or returned to their cells to sleep. Though he and the others spent most of their time alone and unstimulated, in the past year, Broome County has reported holding zero people in solitary confinement. So have at least 42 of the 56 other counties outside New York City.

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