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New York Governor Kathy Hochul.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul stood by her nomination. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

New York Senate rejects Judge Hector LaSalle’s nomination for chief judge

The New York Senate Judiciary committee voted not to advance Governor Kathy Hochul’s pick for Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court.

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The vote is in from the New York Senate Judiciary Committee, tasked with approving Governor Kathy Hochul’s chosen nominee for Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, and despite a narrow result, she’ll need to look for new names. 

The 10-9 vote effectively eliminates Justice Héctor LaSalle — a Puerto Rican judge who vied to become the state’s first Latino top judge — from the running since he will not advance from Senate hearings after the decision on Wednesday, Jan. 18. 

Senator Andrew Gournardes, who sits on the committee, said in a written statement that after “a thorough examination of Justice LaSalle’s nomination, including reviewing hundreds of pages of cases, articles and commentary; interviewing the judge; and participating in today’s hearing, I have concluded that I cannot support his nomination to be Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals.” 

Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, wrote the state needs a “Chief Judge who will stand up for defendants, workers, immigrants & women. But first and foremost, we need someone to unify our highest court. This nominee isn’t that person,” on Twitter. 

Ten Democrats voted against LaSalle’s nomination, while two voted in favor. One Democrat, along with six other Republicans, voted in favor of “without recommendation.” 

LaSalle’s failed nomination is a strong message to Hochul, who was elected to her first, full term after taking over for accused Andrew Cuomo, and whose first judicial pick — expected to be painless — was shrouded in controversy and steep criticism. 

“While I believe that some of the rhetoric expressing opposition to Justice LaSalle’s record has been unfair, on the merits there are too many cases and too many issues of great concern that lead me to conclude that he is not the right judge for this role,” Gournardes’s written statement continued. 

The vote breakdown reflected the political sentiment behind LaSalle’s nomination, which showed divides between progressives and moderates who differed on the significance of LaSalle’s rulings. 

Justice LaSalle’s nomination was, initially, well received by State Democrats, with some calling it “a great feat for Latinos and our state of New York, which is stronger because of diverse leadership voices,” read a statement by U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez. 

But over the course of the last few weeks, LaSalle’s record became the center of a multi-coalition movement to reject his nomination, including a letter signed by U.S. Rep Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

“Diversity without a focus on equity is not enough,” the letter, cosigned by other Latino and political leaders, read. 

LaSalle was poised to become the first Latino man to assume the state’s most powerful judicial role, but his decision and ruling record dispelled the excitement created by Hochul’s diversity pick. 

State progressives have argued that LaSalle — who sits on the Second Department Appellate Court — had a conservative history in court. 

LaSalle, in his first public remarks during the Senate proceedings, requested that the committee look at the record as a whole. 

“I only ask that this body look at my entire record, not just the record that certain advocates have chosen to look at,” he said.

He brought up his upbringing in a union and working-class family, largely to defend against criticisms of his union record, cited by critics as anti-union.

 “When you talk about labor, those are the people that raised me,” he said. 

LaSalle, as part of a panel decision, ruled that Cablevision was able to pursue legal action against individuals for defamatory statements, as long as they were not related to the union or union-related activities.

LaSalle also defended his stance on abortion, and affirmed he did not want his “daughter to have fewer rights than her mother.” 

In 2013, LaSalle limited the scope of an investigation by the Attorney General’s office to probe a pregnancy crisis center, which often masquerades as a reproductive health center, for luring women with false records. 

Hochul, in a statement, characterized the hearing by the judiciary committee as unfair, “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.”

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