Governor Kathy Hochul has received a wave of backlash from unions and senators against moving forward with a Cuomo-era nomination for the state’s chief judge, Justice Hector Lasalle.
New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has not definitively landed on either side of the fence. She said that her job is to shepherd the confirmation process, but she has heard and does share the concerns of fellow senators. Her colleagues have expressed a desire to move away from having strict prosecutors in the roles of judges. Ideally, Stewart-Cousins said, she would like to “change the trajectory of the courts” and have someone aligned on the bench who is with her values and those of her cohorts.
“The reality is that even before this particular nominee, because of what we’ve gone through as a nation with the Dobbs decision and here in New York around guns, even redistricting maps being thrown out, everyone is acutely aware how important it is who is sitting in these judicial seats,” said Stewart-Cousins.
The Senate has 30 days to hold hearings to vote on whether to confirm a nomination, and they usually just vote someone through. However, at least 14 senators and various advocacy groups have made public statements that they are appalled by Lasalle’s “conservative” track record. This Monday, the group rallied at the state capitol against LaSalle, maintaining that his judicial record includes decisions that are anti-labor in the 2015 Cablevision Systems Corp. v. Communications Workers of America (CWA) case , anti-due process, and anti-abortion in the 2017 Evergreen Assn. Inc. v. Schneiderman case.
“CWA is firmly opposed to the nomination of Justice LaSalle for Chief Judge because he is not the right judge for the working people of this state,” said Keith Smith, political director of CWA Local 1118 in a statement. “The Cablevision v. CWA decision that Justice LaSalle joined was a major threat to union organizing, so it’s no surprise that organized labor has come out in full force to oppose Justice LaSalle. Justice LaSalle sided with employers before, and he’s not the right choice for organized labor now.”
Lasalle, a Latino from Brentwood, Long Island, was appointed under former Governor Andrew Cuomo in Jan. 2014. He is an associate justice for the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department. He would replace Janet Difiore.
“LaSalle is a native of Brentwood, New York—the community in which we are based and which we serve,” said Serena Martin-Liguori, executive director of New Hour for Women and Children, an organization based on Long Island. “Let me be clear: LaSalle will harm our community and countless others throughout New York.” She said that she is deeply disappointed in Hochul’s nomination and in Lasalle as a fellow Long Islander. “We are calling on the New York State Senate to reject this nomination. This decision will shape New York’s future,” she said in a statement.
Martin-Liguori said that Lasalle has prevented investigations into and defended Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which primarily target Black and brown women with fake reproductive care.
“The decision to confirm the top jurist in the state will have far-reaching consequences. Evidently, the values of New York are not reflected in Justice LaSalle’s decisions,” said Senator Robert Jackson, who attended the rally. “We must make sure that the Court of Appeals does not bend toward roadblocks to justice and fairness for all.”
Senator Kristen Gonzalez said the U.S. Supreme Court has become “dangerous and radical” and that the state must take the lead in protecting rights. “If Governor Hochul truly wants to uplift the Latino/a community, the best thing she can do is withdraw the LaSalle nomination and nominate a judge who will stand with the working class,” said Gonzalez.
Senators Michael Gianaris, Gustavo Rivera, Shelley Mayer, Jessica Ramos, Julia Salazar, Samra Brouk, Jabari Brisport, Michelle Hinchey, Rachel May, Cordell Cleare, John Liu and Lea Webb have also come out in opposition to the Lasalle nomination.
Others, like Senator Zellnor Myrie, said that they look forward to focusing on reviewing Lasalle’s qualifications, judicial philosophy and answers to questions in the upcoming hearings. Myrie tweeted that as a Afro Latino, he appreciates the historic nature of Lasalle’s nomination, but he takes his role and the process seriously, suggesting that he wouldn’t jump to conclusions. In an ethnic roundtable, New York City Mayor Eric Adams similarly said that it’s certainly a point of pride for the Latino community but appointing a judge is a process.
“Those who don’t feel he’s the right one, those who feel that he is; this is the moment to look at it. Let him come in front of the Senate,” said Adams. “Ask your questions, let him give the answers. I looked through his résumé. He seems extremely qualified to me, so now let him go through the process.”
According to Amsterdam News sources, Lasalle “sat on 5,582 appeals” in his eight years of working in the Appellate Division, which is a part of the court system that reviews questions of law and fact. In the case of People v. Buyund, where Donovan Buyund pled guilty to burglary in the first degree as a sexually motivated felony in Nov. 2021, Lasalle authored a majority opinion that the Court of Appeals (COA) reversed.
Lasalle has dissenting opinions in four cases: People v. Nettles, 181 AD 3d 861, in which he would have affirmed a conviction thrown out by the majority for unreliability of the information supporting a no-knock warrant; People v. Derival, 181 AD 3d 918, in which he would have sustained the criminally negligent homicide conviction of a driver whose passenger died in a car crash; People v. Sanchez, 148 AD 3d 831, in which the majority reversed a conviction because the jury should have been instructed on justification; and People v. Delvillarton, 120 AD3d 1429, in which the majority vacated a conviction.
Stewart-Cousins said she has spoken with Hochul about the nominee and the difficulties he’s facing. She pointed out that nominations come from a judicial commission, and that there has been a subcommittee of judicial diversity for years.
“I went through the process of evaluating the credentials and the record of seven individuals who came [to] me as recommended by the Judicial Screening Commission. I had a chance to meet every one of them,” said Hochul at a press Q&A in December, explaining why she chose Lasalle. “I took the time.”
Hochul said that LaSalle had been involved in more than 5,000 cases and that people are cherry-picking one or two decisions “as being anti-woman or anti-labor.” Hochul was looking for a nominee who would look at every single case without an obvious political disposition. An appellate litigator wrote that LaSalle “did not write” the opinions in the controversial cases used against him.
“I think that’s historic, and all these objections will be overcome when the senators at it look with an open mind and actually study the nature of those cases, so I’m standing with him,” said Hochul. “I’m proud of this selection, and I encourage everyone to give him the fair hearing that he’s entitled to.”
Hochul asked for support from legislators in deciding that a Latino lead the highest court in New York, which has ultimately split Latino groups in their endorsement of him. Her office posted an extensive list of diverse supporters for Lasalle’s nomination, including Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado, Attorney General Letitia James, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, Rep. Yvette Clark, Senator Kevin Thomas, Senator Luis Sepulveda, Senator Monica Martinez and Rev. Al Sharpton.
“The people of New York deserve a judiciary that represents them and the diverse people and needs of our state. If confirmed, Hon. Hector D. LaSalle would be the first Latino to serve as chief judge of the New York State Court of Appeals,” said Heastie in a statement.
Heastie reasoned that since Lasalle promised he would appoint Judge Edwina G. Richardson-Mendelson to serve as chief administrative judge, it would be all around a great feat of diversity. Richardson-Mendelson would potentially be the first African American woman to serve in the role.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.