‘Highly Unlikely’ Hector LaSalle Gets a Floor Vote, Say Senate Democrats

Governor Kathy Hochul maintains that her chief judge nominee will go through a Senate hearing and vote. The Senate Democrats’ spokesperson disagrees.

Sam Mellins   ·   January 6, 2023
Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins getting re-sworn in as president and majority leader of the New York state Senate on January 4, 2023. | State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins

GOVERNOR KATHY HOCHUL’S nominee for Chief Judge of the state’s highest court is “highly unlikely” to get a confirmation vote from the full state Senate, Senate Democratic spokesperson Mike Murphy told New York Focus.

As of Friday afternoon, 14 Democratic state senators had publicly announced their opposition to Judge Hector LaSalle’s nomination to lead the Court of Appeals. More oppose him privately, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told Gotham Gazette.

Many senators have said they are opposing LaSalle, who serves as a judge on a mid-level state appeals court, due to what they characterize as his conservative record on issues including abortion rights and labor unions.

As opposition has mounted, Hochul and other supporters have urged Senate Democrats to at least bring his nomination to the floor.

“I expect to have the process unfold with hearings, with a vote on the Senate floor,” Hochul said on Friday. Her office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The focus on the floor vote is a tacit recognition that as things stand, LaSalle would need Republican votes to reach a majority — likely a dealbreaker for Democratic Senate leadership.

Democratic leadership in the state Senate, which has a Democratic supermajority, generally refuses to bring bills or nominations to a vote if they will need Republican support to pass. But with 14 out of 42 Democrats publicly opposing LaSalle, he would need at least four Republicans to vote in his favor to win confirmation in the 63-member body — even in the improbable scenario that every other Democrat votes in his favor.

To reach the floor, LaSalle’s nomination would have to win approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee, something committee chair Brad Hoylman, a Democrat, has said is doubtful. Senate Democratic leadership announced on Wednesday that they plan to expand the committee from 15 senators to 19. One new addition is Senator Jessica Ramos, a Democrat who has pledged to vote against confirming LaSalle. Two other Democrats on the committee, Senators Luis Sepúlveda and Kevin Thomas, have pledged to vote in the nominee’s favor.

“Judiciary is not just advisory,” Murphy said. “As with all nominations [LaSalle] would have to pass through committee to get to floor.”

Stewart-Cousins threw cold water on LaSalle’s chances in an interview with Gotham Gazette on Friday. “Because I’ve had 14 members come out publicly and say they were not going to confirm the nominee, and I’ve had a number tell me privately they are not going to confirm the nominee, I do not see this ending in the way that the Governor wished it would,” she said.

Senator Michael Gianaris, the deputy majority leader, said Thursday that he is looking for a chief judge who will shift the direction of the court, and that he doesn’t think LaSalle fits the bill.

“Justice LaSalle seems like more of the same,” he said on the Brian Lehrer Show. LaSalle’s opinions “too often tip in the direction of the already powerful,” he added.

During previous Chief Judge Janet DiFiore’s tenure, the Court of Appeals moved in a conservative direction, often siding with police and corporations against defendants and workers.

Labor unions have played a major role in rallying opposition to LaSalle — and so far Hochul’s attempts to change their minds appear to have been unsuccessful. James Mahoney, general vice president of the Iron Workers International union, which opposes LaSalle, said Friday that he’d spoken with the Hochul administration, but that his opinions “have not changed.”

Some LaSalle supporters have argued that New York law requires that nominees to the Court of Appeals receive an up-or-down vote from the full Senate. Since no such nominee has ever failed to win approval, the legal question has never been tested.

“I suppose the governor could file some sort of lawsuit if they failed to vote. But it’s not as if the governor hasn’t sat on appointment from the mayor [and] others,” said Rachael Fauss, senior policy advisor with the good government nonprofit Reinvent Albany.

Sam Mellins is senior reporter at New York Focus, which he has been a part of since launch day. His reporting has also appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Intercept, THE CITY, and The Nation. 
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