Hector LaSalle: New York state Senate panel rejects Hochul’s judicial nominee to the state’s highest court

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A New York state Senate panel has rejected Gov. Kathy Hochul’s nomination to lead New York’s highest court on Wednesday, potentially setting up a legal fight between the Democratic governor and the Democratic-majority legislature.

The New York State Senate Committee on the Judiciary voted 10-9 against sending Justice Hector LaSalle’s nomination up for a full vote on the Senate floor following a five-hour hearing in which members grilled LaSalle on his record, judicial philosophy and his past decisions, particularly on issues related to labor and women’s right to an abortion.

Ten Democrats voted against the nomination, two Democrats voted in favor and one Democrat plus all six Republicans voted in favor but “without recommendation.”

State courts around the country could play a significant role in the coming years as the US Supreme Court’s conservative majority turns over power to state courts in cases involving basic rights once decided by federal courts.

The future of LaSalle’s nomination now seems uncertain as Hochul weighs her options.

“I thought he did an extraordinary job,” the governor told reporters Thursday following an unrelated event in Harlem. “We are certainly looking at all of our options.”

In the days leading up to the hearing, the Hochul administration raised doubts over whether the judiciary committee could have the final say over the nomination. Hochul issued a statement Wednesday saying her nominee requires a full vote to be considered by the full Senate – raising the possibility of legal action that would likely set up a constitutional showdown in New York.

“While this was a thorough hearing, it was not a fair one, 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,” Hochul said in the statement.

Asked at the Harlem event to elaborate on her next steps and whether she would take legal action, Hochul did not provide details.

State Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, chair of the Committee on the Judiciary, explained his decision to vote against the nomination on Twitter, shortly after casting his vote.

“Today, I voted not to advance the nomination of Justice LaSalle to the NY Court of Appeals. We need 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,” he tweeted.

The rejection is seen as a victory for progressive advocates and some left-leaning Democrats in the Senate who, for weeks, have opposed the nomination and called attention to what they say are LaSalle’s conservative positions.

Hochul submitted LaSalle’s nomination in December following the departure of former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who was appointed by former Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and resigned last summer amid a judicial conduct investigation.

LaSalle, who is of Puerto Rican descent, is an appellate court justice and former prosecutor. As chief judge, LaSalle would oversee New York’s entire judicial system, which includes thousands of state and local judges, their staff and millions of cases. LaSalle would also make history as the state’s first Latino chief judge.

This story has been updated with additional developments.