Within her first few weeks in office, New York’s new governor experienced a crushing setback.
On Wednesday, progressives, unions, and Democratic senators delivered a crushing rebuke to New York Governor Kathy Hochul by blocking her nomination of the state’s top judge.
Hochul, who was very narrowly re-elected in November, went forward with his confirmation hearing on Wednesday amid strong resistance. There was a lot of pushback from other Democrats. This is the first occasion since the current system was instituted in the 1970s that New York legislators have rejected a gubernatorial nomination to the state Court of Appeals.
After a contentious confirmation hearing, the committee decided to reject Hector LaSalle, therefore blocking his nomination from being considered by the entire Senate. A single vote prevented the decision from going through, dealing an unusual setback to Hochul at the start of the six-month legislative term.
Hochul's chief judge pick rejected by progressives in stunning defeat https://t.co/TBWKc6zCqE
— POLITICO Pro (@POLITICOPro) January 18, 2023
Hochul quickly disregarded the committee’s legitimacy and called for a vote by the entire Senate. The Democratic majority in the legislature and their allies have been rallying against LaSalle, who would have been the first Latino chief judge of the state Court of Appeals, and the moderate governor is in the middle of this conflict.
Hochul has left the door open to suing to bring her pick to the Senate floor for a vote, but LaSalle’s opponents have been able to outflank her despite his popularity among Latino leaders and Democratic House Leader Hakeem Jeffries.
According to Hochul’s remark, “while this was a comprehensive hearing, it was not a fair one because the decision was predetermined.” “Several senators, including those recently given seats on the enlarged Judiciary Committee, declared how they were going to vote before the hearing even began. Although the Committee is important, we feel that Constitution mandates Senate approval.
Committee head Manhattan Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal said the review process had been completed after nearly five hours of public questioning of the court on Wednesday, and he was shocked that Hochul intended to incite a fight over the state constitution.
It’s the governor’s call, of course, but there’s a lot to accomplish in Albany, and I hope litigation isn’t in our future. “It would be a disgrace for the people of New York if we were to let ourselves get sidetracked by a lawsuit,” he remarked.
The committee’s six Republicans and one Democrat voted to move LaSalle’s candidature forward “without recommendation,” while the other 13 Democrats voted against him.
This was an extremely unusual instance of a vote in Albany being defeated by a single vote. Having spent her political capital on LaSalle rather than other possible candidates and having won the election in November in the closest contest in New York since 1994, Hochul may be in a worse position heading into the six-month legislative session.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins remarked on the ruling and Hochul’s rejection, “I hope and I’m sure that few of us have time to exact revenge and so on.” No matter how busy we get, we never lose sight of the fact that “we have job to do” and “we have work to perform on behalf of the people.”
Many of the votes had already been cast before the hearing even began, marking the end of weeks of tense debate inside the party about LaSalle’s ethnicity, record, and ties to the court’s status quo and the intraparty clash that was worsened by Hochul’s staunch defense of her nominee.
The debate on Wednesday centered on whether or whether LaSalle’s legal record of nearly 5,000 cases, including a few of decisions he had supported that prompted labels from opponents like “anti-abortion” and “anti-labor,” could be dissected to establish his potential to put forth Democratic values.
LaSalle, the current presiding justice of the Second Department of the New York Supreme Court in Brooklyn, has stated that his viewpoints have been misinterpreted based on inferences made from a limited number of cases.
When discussing his past, he remarked, “I couldn’t agree with you more that we should look at the record,” but he urged the committee to consider “my complete record,” rather than just the parts that some supporters had highlighted.
Pras Michel, leader of the Fugees, has stated, “We can look at those — it’s perfectly fair, I’d only ask that you look at the others and give those equal weight.”
Hochul selected LaSalle from a list of seven candidates in late December, and since then, opposition to his nomination has grown rapidly. It’s gotten so bad that on Sunday, Hochul made headlines in a Brooklyn church by drawing parallels between the treatment of LaSalle and that of Martin Luther King Jr.
Hochul has cited LaSalle’s stellar record as a lawyer, his plans to revitalize the state’s huge judicial system after delays caused by the pandemic, and the chance of making history by appointing the first Latino chief judge as reasons for his support. Even more so given his background as a former prosecutor, several Democratic senators and progressive advocacy groups had condemned the more moderate nominee as the wrong route for the increasingly conservative-leaning high court.
Two main groups organizing around the pick, The Court New York Deserves and Latinos for LaSalle, had rival protests before Wednesday’s hearing, which is unusual for the usually quiet procedural committee votes. As LaSalle entered the hearing room, protesters chanted “Hector, Hector,” prompting Hoylman-Sigal to pound the committee’s small, largely symbolic gavel.
“This is not going to be a roast, but it also won’t be your bar mitzvah,” Hoylman-Sigal assured LaSalle.
During her opening statement, Hoylman-Sigal suggested that LaSalle’s judgments “tilt toward the prosecution and against civil rights,” citing the NAACP Legal Defense Fund as an example of an organization that has publicly stated its objection.
He was also one of several senators who voiced displeasure with a statement by LaSalle in which he declared he was “happy” to have voted Republican, Democrat, Working Families Party, and Conservative in judicial elections.
Saying, “As an LGBTQ person, the Conservative Party stands for everything I’m against, against my freedom to marry, against my capacity to have kids, against transgender youngsters,” he went on to explain why he finds the party repulsive. This is very painful.
LaSalle, now 54 years old, wanted to talk about how different instances are being framed in the media.
As an example, the state attorney general’s office was unable to get advertising materials from a crisis pregnancy clinic because of restrictions on the use of subpoenas.
LaSalle clarified that his vote in favor does not mean he supports crisis pregnancy centers. However, he did agree with the constraints placed on the information that prosecutors may collect during the probe.
The New York Senate judiciary committee has rejected Gov Hochul’s anti-choice, anti-labor, anti-“dark skinned” black jurors choice for chief judge of New York, Hector LaSalle.
So I guess Hochul made an ass of herself on MLK day for nothing.https://t.co/yk29qDqCt0
— Elie Mystal (@ElieNYC) January 18, 2023
A second instance concerned the Communications Workers of America and the right of a firm to file an individual lawsuit against a union representative.
According to LaSalle, the decision he backed was not novel but rather the logical extension of a precedent that had been set many years before. He emphasized his origins as “a working-class child, from Brentwood, New York,” and he credited hard effort for his success.
I think it’s a mischaracterization meant to torpedo my candidature, but it’s not an accurate representation of who I am when people claim I’m anti-labor because of the Cablevision judgment, he explained.
However, after explaining the complexities of his legal decisions, LaSalle insisted, “I stand by every action I signed on to.”
Even though he was nominated by a Democrat for governor, most of the Democrats on the committee grilled him on his political and ideological positions, calling into question his suitability to lead New York’s massive court system and to head a bench responsible for countering conservative decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Republicans, on the other hand, were effusive in their praise because they believe his track record demonstrates he will treat the position fairly. Some Republicans have even taken pleasure in the fact that the messaging is causing friction among the party in power.
While reading your rulings and especially while listening to your opening remarks, I seriously considered leaving the room. Andrew Lanza, a Republican from Staten Island, remarked, “You do not come across as a right-wing conservative nut.”
While he disagrees with Hochul on many issues, Lanza added, “I can’t imagine her finding a more qualified nominee.”
Sen. Luis Sepulveda of the Bronx, one of the two Democrats who voted to accept the nomination, claimed the heated public debate amounted to “character assassination.”
But legislators and LaSalle both claimed it was not reflective of their personal talks. Senator John Liu of Queens insisted that “none of this is personal” and that the committee’s vote was merely an acknowledgment of the significant ramifications of the nomination.
LaSalle claimed, “Everyone has treated me with respect and dignity.” “What I’ve heard in private does not match what has been said in public.”