NY Gov. Hochul's pick for chief judge rejected by Democrat Senate panel

The fight over LaSalle's confirmation has garnered national attention amid the political infighting between the state's top Democrats over filling the post with a fellow Democrat.

Updated: January 18, 2023 - 11:06pm

A divided New York state Senate committee rejected Gov. Kathy Hochul’s pick for chief judge Wednesday, following hours of testimony and contentious debate.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-9 against the confirmation of Justice Hector LaSalle, who was vying to become the first Latino chief judge. Democrats who control the committee hammered away at LaSalle's record for hours before the vote, peppering him with questions about rulings and cases he has dealt with during his long career.

"There have been serious concerns raised about the nominee’s record on upholding New York's laws defending reproductive choice, discrimination, immigration and protecting domestic violence victims," Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, the committee's chairman, said in remarks during the hours-long hearing.

In opening remarks, LaSalle defended his judicial record and pushed back against criticism from progressive Democrats and some labor unions, who've argued that his background as a prosecutor and his judicial record should disqualify him.

“Like every judge, I know that not everyone agrees with every ruling," he told the panel. "But I can promise you that in every case, I have sought and will continue to seek to give everyone a fair shake, to listen to arguments carefully, to do my best to apply the law to the facts before us, and to work with my colleagues to reach a fair and just result."

LaSalle currently serves as a presiding justice of the Second Department, the nation's largest state appellate court with a budget of nearly $69 million. He was tapped to fill a vacancy in 2021 by then Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

In August, Judge Janet DiFiore, a conservative who was loyal to former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, stepped down and broke up the 4 to 3 conservative majority on New York’s Court of Appeals.

The unexpected vacancy on the court handed Hochul the rare opportunity to make a major appointment to the courts only a few days into her new term.

Hochul picked LaSalle in December over other potential chief judge candidates who were vetted by a judicial nominating commission.

His nomination was immediately met with opposition by several unions, women's reproductive rights groups and community activists, which pointed to cases he was involved with that they claimed showed anti-union and anti-abortion leanings.

The fight over LaSalle's confirmation has garnered national attention amid the political infighting between the state's top Democrats over filling the post with a fellow Democrat.

But the Senate committee's rejection might not be the final word on his nomination, as Hochul has hinted that she may pursue a legal challenge if he wasn't confirmed.

Hochul issued a statement criticizing LaSalle's rejection and pledged to press on, saying while the Senate committee "plays a role" in the process she believes the state Constitution "requires action by the full Senate."

"While this was a thorough hearing, it was not a fair one, because the outcome was predetermined," she said. "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."