On January 18, 2023, following a lengthy hearing, the New York State Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-9 to reject the nomination of Justice Hector LaSalle to the position of chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals.
Gov. Kathy Hochul nominated Justice LaSalle as chief judge of the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest state court, on December 22, 2022. Currently, Justice LaSalle serves as presiding justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department, a midlevel appeals court based in Brooklyn. Previously, the Justice worked as a prosecutor and served as an associate justice of the Appellate Division for eight years.
Following the LaSalle nomination, 14 members of the State Senate—along with their allies in organized labor—publicly stated their opposition. In addition, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) expanded the membership of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 15 members to 19 members; according to the New York Law Journal, three of the committeemembers named by Leader Stewart-Cousins had previously announced their opposition to the LaSalle nomination. The opposition to Justice LaSalle’s nomination arose from the left wing of the Democratic Party, which deemed some of the Justice’s past decisions to be insufficiently protective of abortion and labor unions. Furthermore, some voices on the progressive left took issue with Justice LaSalle’s background as a prosecutor and expressed a desire for a chief judge with a background representing criminal defendants. For their part, Justice LaSalle’s supporters—who included some establishment Democrats and some Latino Democrats—contended that the Justice’s record was being distorted by his opponents. Gov. Hochul refused to withdraw Justice LaSalle’s nomination.
At the January 18 hearing, several members of the Judiciary Committee—including the committee chair, Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal (D-Manhattan)—grilled Justice LaSalle about his past decisions and his views. The Justice came across as a bright, well-prepared, even-tempered liberal who does not seek to impose his personal views on the cases before him. The hearing took five hours and featured tense moments involving Justice LaSalle’s detractors—all of them Democrats. At one point, Sen. Hoylman-Sigal told Justice LaSalle, a Democrat, that his acceptance of the Conservative Party’s cross-endorsement in 2008 had been “hurtful” because the Party disagrees with the Senator’s position on same-sex “marriage.” In an unusual twist, Justice LaSalle took pains to reassure the Committee that he was pro-choice, pro-labor, and pro-LGBT. After the Committee voted down Justice LaSalle’s nomination (see voting record below), Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) moved to forward the LaSalle nomination to the full Senate. Sen. Hoylman-Sigal ignored him and adjourned the hearing.
Leader Stewart-Cousins and Sen. Hoylman-Sigal have each asserted that the Committee’s action marked the end of the line for the LaSalle nomination. Leader Stewart-Cousins commented, “‘The committee has spoken. The nomination was lost. I’m hoping we can move forward.’” Gov. Hochul, however, sees the matter differently. In a statement, the Governor said, “‘While this was a thorough hearing, it was not a fair one, because the outcome was predetermined. Several Senators stated how they were going to vote before the hearing even began – including those who were recently given seats on the newly expanded Judiciary Committee. While the Committee plays a role, we believe the Constitution requires action by the full Senate.’” At this writing, Gov. Hochul is reportedly considering filing a lawsuit to force the full Senate to vote on the LaSalle nomination. If the nomination were to reach the Senate floor, it is possible that support from Senate Republicans and some Senate Democrats could help Justice LaSalle receive Senate confirmation.
On January 19, Sen. Hoylman-Sigal laid out a litmus test for Court of Appeals nominees: Conservative Party endorsees need not apply. While the Senator later clarified that he had spoken only for himself and not for his fellow Senate Democrats, he doubled down on his own position, acknowledging that he had drawn a “bright line” against confirming Conservative Party endorsees. Sen. Hoylman-Sigal went on to characterize the Conservative Party platform as “anti-LGBTQ” and “anti-woman.” In response, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms called for Sen. Hoylman-Sigal to be removed from his post.
The process to which Justice Hector LaSalle has been subjected reveals the lengths to which the progressive left will go to protect and enhance their own power. Justice LaSalle was not rejected by his fellow Democrats because he was unqualified. The Justice was not even rejected because the committeemembers disagreed with his views. At New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, we believe that the Justice was rejected because the progressive left suspected that he would not use the position of chief judge to impose a leftist ideology upon the people of the state of New York.