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State Senate Panel Rejects Right-Winger for New York’s Chief Judge

However, Gov. Kathy Hochul “has not ruled out taking legal action to force a vote of Justice LaSalle.”

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks during Martin Luther King Jr. Day at National Action Network House of Justice Headquarters on January 16, 2023.

Progressive lawmakers and rights advocates in New York celebrated Wednesday after the state Senate Judiciary Committee voted against Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul’s nominee to serve as the state’s top judge, Justice Hector LaSalle — whose rulings regarding abortion rights, labor, and criminal justice made his nomination “an absolute disaster,” according to one critic.

The panel voted 10-9 against allowing LaSalle’s nomination for chief judge of the state Court of Appeals to proceed to the state Senate floor.

The vote followed a lengthy hearing at which some of the Democrats questioned the judge about his past rulings including a 2015 decision in favor of Cablevision, which wanted to be able to sue union leaders for criticizing the company’s response to Hurricane Sandy, and one which shielded an anti-choice “crisis pregnancy center” from a state investigation into whether it was practicing medicine without a license.

“Based on your record, I think that it’s not unfair for people to project what some of your decisions might be,” state Sen. John Liu (D-16), told LaSalle.

According to The New York Times, Hochul “has not ruled out taking legal action to force a vote of Justice LaSalle on the full Senate floor.”

“Now all eyes turn to Hochul,” Alex Sammon of Slate tweeted.

Hochul was joined by U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) in pushing for LaSalle’s confirmation, while progressives including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) rallied their supporters against the judge.

Progressive state lawmakers swiftly came out against the nomination when it was announced earlier this month, with state Sens. Jabari Brisport (D-25) and Kristen Gonzalez (D-59) making clear that they would not support LaSalle.

The Democratic supermajority in the state Senate “doesn’t need to tolerate Gov. Hochul acting like a Republican,” said Brisport Wednesday.

Gonzalez called the committee’s vote “a victory for all New Yorkers who want a court that protects workers, immigrants, women, and civil liberties.”

The New York Working Families Party called on Hochul to nominate a judge “who has a strong record of defending the rights and freedoms of everyday New Yorkers,” particularly in light of the far-right supermajority on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Center for Community Alternatives called on Hochul to nominate one of the judges the group put forward last month as being “outstanding candidates” with experience in civil rights and government: Corey Stoughton of the Legal Aid Society, Yale law professor Abbe Gluck, and Judge Edwina Richardson-Mendelson, the state’s deputy chief administrative judge for justice alternatives.

“We thank the Senate for rejecting this nomination,” said the group, “and we call on Gov. Hochul, as we have for months, to put forward a nominee for chief judge who will stand up for the rights of marginalized New Yorkers and lead the court New York deserves.”