New York leaders and advocates are turning up the pressure on Governor Kathy Hochul to withdraw her nomination for Justice Hector LaSalle to serve as the state’s Chief Judge.
On Jan. 9, senators, union leaders, reproductive rights organizations, and advocates for due process and civil rights gathered at the state capitol building in Albany to call on the governor to change her mind on nominating LaSalle, citing the judge’s judicial records — which critics say includes decisions that are anti-labor, anti-due process, and anti-abortion.
Hochul first nominated LaSalle for the top judge spot in December 2022, several months after Janet DiFiore stepped down from the position. The announcement was met with opposition from progressives, citing that he is too conservative for their standards, but on Jan. 6 Hochul stated that she was standing by her nomination.
Those in attendance at the rally noted that in LaSalle’s nomination, Hochul overlooked three potential candidates: Edwina Richardson-Mendelson, Abbe Gluck, and Corey Stoughton.
Center for Community Alternatives (CCA) initially launched The Court New York Deserves, a campaign of nearly 150 organizations calling for a Chief Judge who will not only safeguard the rights of all New Yorkers, but also defend our democracy, and protect the most vulnerable.
“Justice LaSalle has repeatedly disregarded New Yorkers’ due process rights by refusing to reconsider convictions even when injustice has clearly occurred. In every dissent that Justice LaSalle has ever written or joined, he dissented in favor of allowing unjustified arrests and maintaining wrongful convictions,” said Patrick Stephens, leader at Center for Community Alternatives. “Justice LaSalle’s record makes clear that he is insensitive to due process rights and other rights that both the New York and federal constitutions seek to protect. His record is not, as his supporters have claimed, that of an even-handed and fair-minded judge. Instead, it’s of a judge who seemingly thinks police and prosecutors can do no wrong.”
So far, several union leaders declared their opposition to LaSalle’s nomination, claiming that he has been anti-union and permitted lawsuits meant to harass and intimidate union leaders, contradicting binding precedent and opening the door for more state-level anti-union state lawsuits that will come if the U.S. Supreme Court guts federal protections.
“Two weeks ago, I was Team Hochul. All last year, I was Team Hochul. When we needed people to get out the vote, I was Team Hochul,” said James Mahoney, president of New York State District Council of Iron Workers. “When she was worried that she was going to lose the race for governor, I was Team Hochul. She promised us that we were going to have a seat at the table. But she put us on the menu. I’m not unhappy about this—I’m apoplectic. It’s wrong. I’m not going to stand for it. My members—10,000 across the state of New York, 100,000 across the United States—we stand against this nomination.”
“CWA is firmly opposed to the nomination of Justice LaSalle for Chief Judge because he is not the right judge for the working people of this state,” said Keith Smith, political director of CWA Local 1118. “The Cablevision v. CWA decision that Justice LaSalle joined was a major threat to union organizing, so it’s no surprise that organized labor has come out in full force to oppose Justice LaSalle. Justice LaSalle sided with employers before, and he’s not the right choice for organized labor now.”
“Gov. Hochul has taken an approach to judicial nominations opposite that of President Biden on the federal level. President Biden’s nominations have emphasized not only racial and gender diversity, but also professional diversity, as more than half of his nominees so far have been public interest lawyers working in public defense, civil rights, consumer protection, labor, or similar areas,” said Deborah Wright, Political Director of United Auto Workers Region 9A. “Governor Hochul had the same opportunity to follow suit in prioritizing racially and professionally diverse nominees to help lead our state court system into the future but sadly chose not to.”
LaSalle’s nomination has also raised concerns from women’s rights advocates, saying that LaSalle has stood in the way of advancing abortion rights in New York.
“At a time when many of our federal courts have grown increasingly hostile to workers’ and women’s rights, when our Supreme Court is waging war on our right to choose, on our anti-discrimination laws, and on the power of our federal agencies to protects us, our state courts are one of our most important lines of defense, and none more so than New York’s highest court. The Court of Appeals is simply too important to be led by someone who is not wholly committed to defending the rights of women and workers,” said Dana Bolger, staff attorney at A Better Balance.
“Now more than ever, New York courts must serve as a bulwark against further erosion of pregnant people’s rights, liberty, and autonomy. Justice LaSalle’s record demonstrates he is the wrong choice to lead New York’s highest court. Justice LaSalle joined an opinion that curtailed the Attorney General’s investigation into a network of faux medical clinics that were using coercive practices to pressure pregnant people not to seek abortions,” said Emma Roth, staff attorney at Pregnancy Justice. “The opinion reveals his clear disregard for the threat posed by anti-abortion extremists. Governor Hochul’s claim that reproductive rights are a top priority for her administration has lulled some into a false sense of security regarding this nomination.”
Roth continued, “It is patently false to claim that New York’s courts will always safeguard the rights of pregnant people, even after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the federal right to abortion by overturning Roe. For decades, pregnant people across America—including in New York State—have been subjected to criminalization, deprivations of liberty, and forced medical interventions that only occurred because of their status as pregnant or postpartum. Since 1973, Pregnancy Justice has documented over 1,700 instances across the country in which people were arrested, prosecuted, convicted, detained, or forced to undergo medical interventions because of their pregnancy status or outcomes. 27 of those cases occurred within New York State. Justice LaSalle is the wrong choice to lead the Court of Appeals in the post-Roe era.”
LaSalle’s nomination has also been opposed by 14 New York Senators, 6 of whom stood alongside union leaders at the Albany rally, as well as a handful of other New York state politicians.
Senator Julia Salazar said, “If this nomination is brought to the floor for a vote, I will vote no. I urge my colleagues to join me in rejecting this nomination. We know that if Justice LaSalle were confirmed to this position, it would solidify a conservative majority with serious material impact on women, workers, and all New Yorkers.”
Senator Samra Brouk said, “We’ve seen the damage that a radical, conservative court can do at the national level. We need judges in New York who are steadfast in their commitment to supporting working people and protecting our rights to bodily autonomy; Judge LaSalle’s record does not align with these needs. This nomination is a historic opportunity to lead with our values, and we must vote accordingly.”
Despite the opposition, LaSalle’s nomination has also garnered a lot of support, particularly from Attorney General Letitia James, Lt. Governor Antonio Delgado, Speaker Carl Heastie, Rev. Al Sharpton, and several other politicians, as well as the Long Island Hispanic Bar Association and Latino Lawyers Association of Queens County.
When asked for a comment, the Governor’s office referred amNewYork Metro to the Governor’s comments from her recent press conference where she expressed her intentions to follow through on the nomination.
“I selected the very best person. Hector LaSalle has an exceptional record. He’ll be the person that’ll bring a fractured court together. He’ll be fair. He’ll be just. And a review of his 5,000 cases will reveal that. So that’s why the process will be to go to the committee, even if it’s stacked. He’ll have a hearing. We’ll go to the floor of the Senate because that’s what this constitution provides for,” said Hochul.
Updated at 4:50 p.m. on Jan. 9, 2023.