Judge Hector LaSalle, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul's (D) pick to lead the state Court of Appeals, suffered an ignominious — and potentially fatal — setback on Wednesday after the state Senate Judiciary Committee voted against his nomination 10-9. It was a historic defeat for both the jurist and the governor, who expended significant political capital on his behalf.
By the end of his hearing before the committee, LaSalle had earned only two unconditional votes of approval from the committee members, seven votes to pass him through to a full senate vote without recommendation, and 10 votes against his nomination entirely.
LaSalle's nomination had been fiercely opposed by many state Democratic lawmakers and progressives since Hochul named him as her pick to succeed now-retired Chief Judge Janet DiFiore in late December. Critics pointed to his previous rulings against labor unions, and an opinion denying constitutional protections against discrimination for potential jurors based on their skin color, with a cadre of law professors decrying what they caled his "activist conservative jurisprudence" that would "take our State's law in the wrong direction" in a blistering letter to the governor against LaSalle's nomination. Speaking at Wednesday's hearing, committee chair and LaSalle opponent Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal pushed back against Hochul's previous claims that her nominee could serve as a counterbalance to the conservative Supreme Court of the United States, stating simply "the stakes are just too high."
Touting his nomination as a potentially historic moment for the man who would, if confirmed, become the state's "first Latino chief judge," Gov. Hochul tapped a number of high-profile party surrogates to make the case for her nominee, including House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who spoke on LaSalle's behalf at a rally earlier this week. Hispanic Federation Board Chair Manuel Chinea and former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito also threw their weight behind LaSalle's nomination, with the latter stressing that "representation does matter," during an event hosted by the Latinos For LaSalle political group, of which Mark-Viverito is a member alongside longtime political consultant Luis Miranda Jr., father of Broadway megastar Lin Manuel Miranda.
While the committee's rejection of LaSalle's nomination has been taken by some in the state Senate as the final say in his prospect to become chief judge ("What happens in committees matter," Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told reporters the week before Wednesday's vote) Hochul has indicated she is prepared to sue, on the belief that LaSalle is constitutionally entitled to a full Senate floor vote.