Politics

Hochul’s election for chief justice was rejected by her own party in a stunning defeat

ALBANY, NY – New York’s governor suffered a historic defeat in just the first few weeks of his new administration.

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday became the first governor to lose her bid to appoint the state’s chief justice, drawing a major rebuke from progressives, labor unions and her Democratic colleagues in the Senate.

Hochul, who hardly won the election to a full term in November, plowed ahead in Wednesday’s confirmation hearing despite aggressive opposition. She was met with fierce opposition from other Democrats. It’s the first time New York lawmakers have denied a gubernatorial nominee to the state appeals court under the current system, which began in the 1970s.

The committee’s decision to reject Hector LaSalle after a bruising confirmation hearing means the full Senate will not consider her selection. The resolution, which failed by one vote, is an extraordinary blow to Hochul as the six-month legislative session gets under way.

Hochul quickly rejected the committee’s integrity and authority and called for a full Senate vote. The battle pits the moderate governor against the Democratic majority in the Legislature and its allies who rallied against LaSalle, who would have been the state’s first Latino chief justice of the state appeals court.

LaSalle’s opponents, notwithstanding his support among Latino leaders and the leader of the Democratic House, Hakeem Jeffries, was able to bypass Hochul, who has left open the possibility of suing to bring her choice to the Senate for a vote.

“While this was a thorough hearing, it was not a fair one because the outcome was predetermined,” Hochul said in a statement. “Several senators stated how they would vote before the hearing even began — including those who recently gained seats on the newly expanded Judiciary Committee. While the committee plays a role, we believe the Constitution requires action by the full Senate.”

The committee chairman, Manhattan Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, said the judiciary’s nearly five-hour public hearing Wednesday satisfied the review process and that he was incredulous that Hochul would start a fight over the state constitution.

“I hope that litigation is not in our future — obviously that’s the governor’s decision, but we have so much work to do in Albany. To be distracted by a lawsuit would be a travesty for the people of New York,” he said.

Ten Democrats on the 19-member panel voted against LaSalle, two voted for him and one voted with the committee’s six Republicans to advance the nomination “without recommendation.”

But it was one vote short, a rare case of a vote in Albany not being approved. That could put Hochul in a weakened position heading into the six-month legislative session after spending his political capital on LaSalle over other potential candidates and after winning last November’s election in the closest race in New York since 1994 .

“I hope and I’m sure that very few of us have time to take revenge and so on,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins ​​said of the decision and Hochul’s recusal. “We have work to do and we have work to do on behalf of the people and we never lose sight of that.”

Most of the votes were all but decided before the hearing — the culmination of weeks of tension over LaSalle’s ethnicity, record and relationship with the court’s status quo that has resulted in a clash between the parties exacerbated by Hochul’s fierce defense of her election.

At the heart of the debate Wednesday was whether LaSalle’s ability to evoke democratic values ​​could be determined by dissecting any number of the roughly 5,000 cases included in his legal record, including a handful of decisions he had joined that invited labels from opponents such as “anti-abortion” and “anti-work”.

LaSalle, who currently presides over the New York Supreme Court’s Second Department in Brooklyn, said his views have been misrepresented based on conclusions drawn from a small portion of the cases.

“When we talk about my record, I couldn’t agree with you more – we should look at the record, but I’m only asking that this body look at my entire record, not the record that certain advocates have chosen to look at. ” he said.

“We can look at them – that’s all fair, I’d only ask you to look at the others and give them equal weight.”

Opposition to LaSalle’s nomination snowballed since Hochul chose him from a seven-man roster at the end of December. It has reached such a fever pitch that Hochul raised eyebrows on Sunday by comparing the treatment of LaSalle to the treatment of Martin Luther King Jr. during a speech at a church in Brooklyn.

Hochul has pointed to LaSalle’s strong legal reputation, his intent to revive the state’s massive court system after pandemic-related delays and the historic opportunity to have the first Latino chief justice. Several Democratic senators and progressive advocacy groups had dismissed the more moderate choice as the wrong direction for it increasingly conservative Supreme Courtespecially because of his background as a former prosecutor.

Wednesday’s hearing was atypical amid normally quiet procedural committee votes — preceded by two conflicting rallies by the primary groups that organized around the election — The court New York deserves and Latinos for LaSalle. The demonstrations continued into the packed hearing room with chants of “Hector, Hector” as LaSalle entered, forcing Hoylman-Sigal to bang the committee’s small, largely symbolic gavel.

“This won’t be a roast, but it won’t be your bar mitzvah either,” Hoylman-Sigal told LaSalle.

Hoylman-Sigal began the hearing suggesting that LaSalle’s rulings “lean against the prosecution and against civil rights” and pointed to groups like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund who have reported opposition. He was also among a number of senators who expressed concern that LaSalle said he was proud to have run on the Republican, Democratic, Working Families Party and conservative party lines in judicial elections.

“As an LGBTQ person, the Conservative Party stands for everything I am against, against my right to marry, against my ability to have children, against transgender youth,” he said. “It’s hurtful.”

LaSalle, 54, sought to address the framing of several cases that have surfaced in the discourse.

One was related to one crisis pregnancy center to limit subpoena access to their advertising material to an investigation by the Attorney General.

LaSalle said his acceptance of the decision was not an indication that he personally defends crisis pregnancy centers. But he agreed with the limits placed on what prosecutors could achieve during the investigation.

Another involved the Communications Workers of America and a company’s ability to sue a union official as an individual.

LaSalle said the decision he supported was not new — it was the application of a necessary precedent set decades earlier. He also noted his background as “a working-class kid, from Brentwood, New York” and said labor got him to where he is today.

“So when people say I’m anti-labor because of the Cablevision decision, I think that’s simply a mischaracterization intended to derail my nomination, but it’s certainly not an adequate characterization of who I is,” he said.

But while LaSalle expressed the nuances of the legal choices he’s made, he also said, “I stand by every decision I signed.”

The hearing was an odd turn for a nominee of a Democratic governor — most of the committee’s Democrats hammered him on political and ideological positions and cast doubt on his ability to lead New York’s massive court system and to preside over a bench responsible for to counter conservative decisions that came. down from the US Supreme Court.

Republicans, however, were effusive in their praise for a record they say proved he would approach the role with fairness. Some members of the GOP have expressed no small amount of glee at the messages — some shared by their colleagues in the majority party.

“You know, when I read your decisions, and especially when I listened to your opening statement, I thought for a second that I was in the wrong room. You don’t come across as a right-wing conservative geek,” said Staten Island Republican Andrew Lanza.

Lanza said that while he doesn’t often agree with Hochul, “he can’t imagine her finding a more qualified candidate.”

The intensity of the public discourse has amounted to “character assassination,” said Bronx Sen. Luis Sepúlveda, one of the two Democrats who approved the nomination.

But both lawmakers and LaSalle said that hasn’t been representative of conversations they’ve had in private. Ultimately, the committee’s decision was just a nod to the important implications of the nomination, Queens Sen said. John Liu, and “none of this is personal.”

“Everyone has treated me with respect and dignity,” LaSalle said. “The private conversations I have had have not reflected the public statements that have been made.”

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