ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul was urged Monday to withdraw her chief judge nominee by advocates and lawmakers who claim he’s too conservative and would tilt the state’s top court too far to the right.
Hochul nominated Hector D. LaSalle to lead the state Court of Appeals just before Christmas, saying the veteran judge would focus on “expanding access to justice for New Yorkers.”
While top court nominations typically sail through the state Senate, LaSalle quickly drew opposition. Some progressive activists, union officials and Democratic senators claim his judicial record is anti-abortion, anti-labor and anti-due process.
“Now more than ever, we need our Court of Appeals to be the leader in safeguarding our civil liberties, in defending our democracy and protecting the most vulnerable New Yorkers,” state Sen. Kristen Gonzalez of New York City said at a state Capitol news conference.
She urged Hochul, a fellow Democrat, to pull the nomination.
There was no comment Monday from the Hochul administration.
Gonzalez is among 14 state senators who have publicly opposed the nomination, according to activists. That would mean Democrats in control of the Senate do not have enough votes to approve LaSalle without Republican votes.
If LaSalle is confirmed, he would become the first Latino to lead the seven-member high court and oversee New York’s judicial system.
With the Senate required to decide on the nomination this month, opponents have been pressing their case. They claim the Court of Appeals should be a counterweight in New York to the conservative U.S. Supreme Court.
LaSalle’s opponents have focused on several lower court opinions, including one they say threatened union organizing.
James Mahoney of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers told reporters that Hochul was taking for granted labor allies who helped her win her first governor’s race in November.
“She promised us that we were going to have a seat at the table,” Mahoney said. “She put us on the menu.”
LaSalle has some prominent backers and labor opposition is not universal.
John Samuelsen, international president of the Transport Workers Union, said he wants to make a determination on LaSalle after a Senate hearing. And he called on the state Senate to schedule one.
“Let’s get down to the nitty gritty and let everybody make a decision for themselves,” he said in a phone interview.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said there was no hearing scheduled as of Monday.
LaSalle currently serves as a presiding justice of the Second Department, where he led the largest state appellate court in the nation with a budget of about $69 million. He was appointed to that position in 2021 by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Activists have claimed that New York’s top court has drifted rightward in recent years under former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who stepped down this summer. State lawmakers were particularly upset after the court in April rejected new congressional maps that had widely been seen as favoring Democrats.
Maysoon Khan contributed. Khan is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Maysoon Khan on Twitter.