In the first few weeks of her new job as governor of New York, the new governor lost a big election. On Wednesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul became the first governor to fail in her attempt to choose the state’s top judge. This was seen as a significant setback by progressives, unions, and her fellow Democrats in the Senate.
Hochul pushed ahead with her confirmation hearing on Wednesday, even though she barely won a full term in November. Her fellow Democrats fought back hard against her. It’s the first time since the current system began in the 1970s that New York lawmakers have turned down a governor’s choice for the state Court of Appeals.
After a rough confirmation hearing, the Committee decided not to approve Hector LaSalle. This means that the full Senate will not look at her choice. The decision, which failed by one vote, is a huge blow to Hochul as the six-month legislative session starts.
Hochul quickly questioned the Committee’s honesty and power and asked for a vote by the whole Senate. The fight is between the moderate governor and the Democratic majority in the Legislature and their allies, who are against LaSalle, who would have been the state’s first Latino chief judge of the state Court of Appeals.
Even though Latino leaders and Democratic House Leader Hakeem Jeffries supported LaSalle, his opponents could get around Hochul. Hochul has not ruled out suing to get her pick to the Senate floor for a vote.
Hochul said in a statement, “This was a thorough hearing, but it wasn’t fair because the outcome was already known.” “Before the hearing even started, a number of senators said how they would vote. This included senators who had just been given new seats on the Judiciary Committee. Even though the Committee has a part to play, the Constitution calls for the full Senate to act.”
The head of the Committee, Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal of Manhattan, said that Wednesday’s nearly five hours of public questioning of the judiciary completed the review process. He was surprised that Hochul wanted to start a fight over the state constitution.
“I hope that lawsuits are not in our future. Clearly, it’s up to the governor, but we have so much work to do in Albany. “It would be a shame for the people of New York if a lawsuit got in the way,” he said. Ten of the 19 Democrats on the Committee voted against LaSalle, two voted for him. One voted “without recommendation” to move the nomination forward.
But it didn’t get enough votes. It’s not often that a vote in Albany doesn’t pass. It could make Hochul less powerful going into the six-month legislative session since she spent her political capital on LaSalle instead of other possible candidates. She narrowly won the election last November in New York in the closest race since 1994.
Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Senate Majority Leader, said about the decision and Hochul’s rejection, “I hope and am sure that few of us have time to get even and so on.” “We have work to do, and we have work to do for the people. We never forget that,” he said.
Most of the votes had already been decided before the hearing. This resulted from weeks of tension over LaSalle’s race, record, and relationship to the court’s status quo, which led to a fight within Hochul’s party and was made worse by her strong defense of her pick.
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The main topic of discussion on Wednesday was whether or not LaSalle’s ability to promote Democratic values could be judged by looking at any of the 5,000 or so cases on his legal record, including a few decisions he had helped make that drew labels like “anti-abortion” and “anti-labor” from his opponents.
LaSalle, in charge of the Second Department of the New York Supreme Court in Brooklyn, said that his positions have been misunderstood based on the results of a few cases.
“When we talk about my record, I couldn’t agree more that we should look at it. I only ask that this body looks at my whole record, not just the parts that some advocates have chosen to look at,” he said. “We can look at those; that’s fine. I want you to look at the others and give them the same weight.”
Hochul chose LaSalle from a list of seven candidates in late December, and since then, the number of people who don’t like him has grown. It’s gotten so bad that Hochul caused a stir in a Brooklyn church on Sunday when he compared how LaSalle was treated to how Martin Luther King Jr. was treated.
Hochul has pointed to LaSalle’s good reputation as a lawyer, his plan to get the state’s colossal court system back on track after delays caused by the pandemic, and the possibility that he would be the first Latino chief judge. Several Democratic senators and progressive groups said that the more moderate pick was the wrong choice for a Supreme Court that was becoming more and more conservative, mainly because he was a former prosecutor.
Wednesday’s hearing was unusual because procedural committee votes are usually quiet. Before the hearing, The Court New York Deserves and Latinos for LaSalle held two rallies at odds with each other. As LaSalle walked into the packed hearing room, people chanted “Hector, Hector,” which made Hoylman-Sigal hit the small, primarily symbolic gavel of the Committee. Hoylman-Sigal told LaSalle, “This won’t be a roast, but it also won’t be your bar mitzvah.”
Hoylman-Sigal started the hearing by saying that LaSalle’s decisions “lean toward the prosecution and against civil rights” and that groups like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund have said they are against them. He was also one of several senators who were worried when LaSalle said he was proud to have run for judicial office as a Republican, a Democrat, a member of the Working Families Party, and a Conservative.
“As an LGBTQ person, the Conservative Party stands for everything. I’m against my right to marry, my ability to have kids, and transgender youth,” he said. “That hurts.” LaSalle, who is 54 years old, wanted to talk about how a number of recent cases have been framed.
One was about a crisis pregnancy center that made it hard for the state attorney general to get access to their promotional materials as part of an investigation. LaSalle said that just because he agreed with the decision doesn’t mean he supports crisis pregnancy centers. But he did agree with the limits put on what the prosecutors could get while the investigation was going on.
Another case was about Communications Workers of America and whether or not a company could sue a union leader as an individual.
LaSalle said that the decision he agreed with was not a new one but rather the application of a rule that had been set decades before. He also said that he was “a working-class kid from Brentwood, New York,” and he said that hard work got him to where he is now.
So, when people say I’m against labor because of the Cablevision decision, he said, “I think that’s just a false accusation meant to stop my nomination, but it’s not a good description of who I am.”
But LaSalle also said, “I stand by every decision I signed on to,” even though he talked about the details of his legal decisions. The hearing was strange because it was for a nominee from a Democratic governor. Most of the Democrats on the Committee attacked him on his political and ideological views, making people doubt his ability to run New York’s huge court system and lead a bench that counters conservative decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Republicans, on the other hand, were full of praise for his record, which they said showed he would be fair in the job. Some members of the GOP have been very happy about the messages, even though some are dividing their fellow members of the majority party.
“You know, I thought I was in the wrong room for a second when I read your decisions, especially when I heard your opening statement. Andrew Lanza, a Republican from Staten Island, said, “You don’t seem like a right-wing conservative nut.”
Lanza said that he doesn’t always agree with Hochul, but that “she couldn’t find a more qualified nominee” if she tried. Sen. Luis Seplveda of the Bronx, one of the two Democrats who voted in favor of the nomination, said that the level of public debate has been like an “assassination of character.”
But lawmakers and LaSalle said that wasn’t how they’d talked to each other privately. Queens Sen. John Liu said that the Committee’s decision was just a nod to how vital the nomination was and that “none of this is personal.” LaSalle said, “Everyone has treated me with respect and honor.” “The private conversations I’ve had don’t match up with what’s been said in public.”
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