ALBANY, N.Y. The chances of Gov. Hochul’s choice to lead the state’s judiciary system being confirmed plummeted Thursday after a pair of powerful Queens senators pledged to vote no.
Senator Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), the chamber’s deputy majority leader, believes Justice Hector LaSalle is the wrong choice for Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals and would strengthen the bench’s conservative bent.
“Unfortunately, it appears that Justice LaSalle would represent a continuation of the unacceptable status quo that has tarnished our state’s highest court’s reputation,” he said in a statement.
Shortly after, Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-Queens) became the 12th Democratic senator to state her opposition to LaSalle, citing his history of controversial opinions and his work as a prosecutor.
After Hochul named LaSalle as her choice to lead the Court of Appeals and replace former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who stepped down over the summer, opposition has grown by the day.
Advocates, progressives, and labour leaders have painted LaSalle as an openly conservative jurist whose record includes anti-union and anti-reproductive rights opinions.
LaSalle is currently the presiding justice of the state’s 2nd Appellate Division, which hears appeals from state courts in Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island. She would be the first Latina to lead the state’s court system.
The Suffolk County native has many supporters.
Nearly two dozen former justices who have collaborated with LaSalle wrote a letter to top lawmakers on Wednesday saying they “wholly support without reservation” his nomination.
However, his path to confirmation remains uncertain for the time being, as more than enough of Hochul’s fellow Democrats, who hold a supermajority in the 63-seat Senate, have pledged to vote against LaSalle.
Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), who chairs the chamber’s Judiciary Committee, said Thursday that if LaSalle’s nomination requires Republican support, it won’t make it to the floor.
“We have a majority — in fact, a supermajority — for a reason, and that reason is to ensure that the values that we share as Democrats are reflected in our actions for the people of New York, and I don’t think a vote that required senate Republicans would be indicative of a chamber that puts its values forward,” Hoylman told The Capitol Pressroom.
Politically powerful union leaders have also spoken out strongly against LaSalle’s nomination, citing a 2015 decision that allowed now-defunct Cablevision to sue union leaders for criticising the company’s response to Hurricane Sandy, despite a state law intended to prevent management harassment of labour.
Hochul has so far stood firm in her decision and has not indicated a willingness to withdraw her nomination.
“Judge LaSalle is a highly qualified, experienced, and respected jurist, and his historic nomination merits a full hearing and confirmation process,” Gov. Chris Christie said in a statement on Thursday. “I expect that the Senate will fulfil their constitutional duties and engage in a robust, fair process.
“I know Judge LaSalle is the best candidate for the job, and I believe Senators will agree when they hear from him directly,” she added.
Following DiFiore’s abrupt resignation in July, the state’s Commission on Judicial Nomination submitted seven candidates to Hochul.
In recent years, the state’s highest court has been heavily criticised as a quartet of conservative-leaning judges led by DiFiore dominated decisions from the seven-member panel.
Recently, the Court of Appeals came under fire from some for overturning congressional and state Senate lines drawn up by the Democrat-led Legislature in a decision that split the state’s primaries and threw the election calendar into disarray.
Gianaris stated that his opposition to LaSalle stems from a desire to see the court take a new direction.
“While I respect the governor’s right to nominate a chief judge of her choice, the most important criteria must be to ensure a change from the harmful tenure of Janet DiFiore and her three followers still serving on the Court of Appeals,” he said.