A state Senate Republican is suing Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and 10 other Democrats over the upper chamber’s Judiciary Committee vote against advancing Governor Kathy Hochul’s pick of Judge Hector LaSalle to lead the state’s highest court.
The legal gambit, highly unusual for a typical state judiciary confirmation process, aims to force a floor vote LaSalle’s nomination after it failed in the Judiciary Committee last month by a 10-9 vote.
Republican state Senator Anthony Palumbo, the ranking GOP member on the state Senate Judiciary Committee (Suffolk County), was listed as the plaintiff in the suit filed in Suffolk County Supreme Court on Thursday. Palumbo and the other five Republicans on the committee, along with Democrat Jamal Bailey (Bronx), didn’t vote to recommend LaSalle be confirmed, but said his nomination should be advanced to the full Senate.
While Hochul’s office has made the same argument that the constitution stipulates a full Senate vote, her spokesperson Hazel Crampton-Hayes declined to comment on the GOP suit.
In the complaint, Palumbo charges the state Senate Democratic majority’s position that LaSalle’s nomination was defeated when the Judiciary committee voted it down last month is unconstitutional, arguing that the state constitution stipulates there must be a full-floor vote on the nomination. He specifically pointed to Article VI of the state constitution, which says the governor appoints a chief judge for the state Court of Appeals with the “advice and consent of the senate,” interpreting that to mean the full state Senate.
“A vote of a mere committee of the Senate — here, the Judiciary Committee — does not satisfy the constitutional requirement of advice and consent,” the complaint reads. “The Constitution does not delegate that authority to a committee.”
“Pursuant to the Constitution, the entire 63-member Senate must be given the opportunity to vote on Justice LaSalle’s nomination,” it continues. “Consequently, Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment that the Senate be required to bring Justice LaSalle’s nomination to the floor for a vote.”
Besides Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic state Senators named in the suit include Judiciary Committee Chair Brad Hoylman-Sigal (Manhattan), Neil Breslin (Capital Region), John Liu (Queens), Shelley Mayer (Westchester County), Zellnor Myrie (Brooklyn), Jessica Ramos (Queens), Sean Ryan (Buffalo), James Skoufis (Hudson Valley) and Toby Ann Stavisky (Queens). All of them voted against LaSalle’s nomination on the committee.
Mike Murphy, a spokesperson for Stewart-Cousins, said the majority leader’s office had yet to be served with the suit while blasting Senate Republicans on the grounds of their legal action.
“We have not been served regarding any lawsuit,” Murphy said in a statement. “It is embarrassing but not surprising that the Senate Republicans have no basic understanding of law or the constitution.”
State Senate leadership, including Stewart-Cousins and Hoylman-Sigal, have maintained that the GOP and governor’s interpretation of the constitution is wrong because it gives the Senate the ability to set its own rules and body works through committees.
“There’s another part of the state constitution, where it states that the Assembly and the Senate set their own rules,” Hoylman-Sigal said in an interview with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer last month.
“Brian, I think your listeners know that legislatures work through committees,” he added. “That’s something we learn in grade school, that the work we do is based on the committees’ recommendation. Otherwise we’d have every bill and every nominee going directly to the floor of our respective chambers. And that’s not how it works and that’s not the rules that we have in our constitution.”