Governor Kathy Hochul is standing firmly behind her controversial pick to lead New York’s top court, centrist-Judge Hector LaSalle, saying on Friday he has a record that “supports fairness and justice” and she expects him to be confirmed through a vote on the state Senate floor.
But state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said that, given the significant opposition to LaSalle, he’s not likely to get confirmed.
Since Hochul nominated LaSalle to be the state Court of Appeals’ next chief judge late last year, her choice has gotten intense pushback from progressive lawmakers, some labor unions — including the influential 32BJ SEIU — and criminal justice reform advocates. They argue a few of the past decisions he signed onto, in his current role, as presiding justice of the state Supreme Court’s Second Department, show he’d be opposed to abortion access, labor rights and due process.
LaSalle’s detractors worry that he’d join the court’s conservative wing, like the former chief judge he was nominated to replace: Janet DiFiore — who suddenly stepped down from the role last summer.
Hochul, for her part, has fiercely defended LaSalle, talking up his competence and that he’d be the first Latino to lead the state’s highest court. She sang a similar tune Friday morning, whilst delivering remarks before marching in the annual Three Kings Day Parade in Manhattan — a holiday that bears significance to Latino Catholics.
“There’s also another opportunity that lies before us, to do something that has never occurred in the history of the great state of New York, and that is to put a distinguished individual on the highest court in our land, an individual who has a stellar record, a record of accomplishment, a record of bringing people together, a record that supports fairness and justice, core values that are so important to me as a leader,” Hochul said. “And that’s why I was so proud to nominate and expect to have the process unfold, with hearings, with a vote on the Senate floor to confirm our next chief judge to the New York State Court of appeals: Hector LaSalle.”
Despite Hochul’s expectations, however, there are 14 Democratic senators, including the chamber’s Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), who’ve publicly stated they’ll vote against LaSalle, should a full Senate vote take place.
During an interview on the Max Politics Podcast Friday morning, Stewart-Cousins told host, and Gotham Gazette Editor, Ben Max, she doesn’t think this will end the way Hochul wants it to.
“Because I’ve had 14 members come out publicly and say they were not going to confirm the nominee, and I’ve had a number tell me privately they’re not going to confirm the nominee, I do not see this ending in the way that the governor wished it would,” Stewart-Cousins said in the interview. “The realities are that in my conference the numbers are not there. If he continues to be the nominee then obviously we’ll do the process as it’s laid out.”
Plus, LaSalle may not even make it past the state Senate Judiciary Committee, according to a report from the New York Post.
Albany’s upper chamber on Wednesday passed a resolution to expand the size of its Judiciary Committee from 15 to 19 members — with the added members consisting of three Democrats and one Republican. That opens the possibility of stacking the committee with enough progressive lawmakers to stop LaSalle’s nomination from moving to the Senate floor. The committee’s Republicans are expected to vote for passing LaSalle’s nomination onto the full chamber.
The committee’s 12 expected returning members consist of eight Democrats and four Republicans, and the other seven will be named in the coming days. Progressive state Senator Jessica Ramos, who’s come out in opposition to LaSalle, says she’ll be appointed to the committee.
But Stewart-Cousins’ office pushed back on the framing that they’re stacking the committee, in the Post’s report Wednesday, arguing the proportion of Democrats to Republicans will remain the same, even with the added members.
Ramos, in a statement to amNewYork Metro, said that Stewart-Cousins has been clear LaSalle will have a hearing in front of the Judiciary Committee, which she’s preparing for.
“The [majority] Leader has been clear that Judge LaSalle will get his hearing,” Ramos said. “As a new member of the Judiciary Committee, I am taking preparations for this hearing very seriously.”