Confirmation of Gov. Hochul’s chief judge pick is questionable as opposition mounts

ALBANY — The chances of Gov. Hochul’s pick to head up the state’s judiciary system being confirmed plummeted Thursday as a pair of powerful Queens senators vowed to vote against the nomination.

Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), the deputy majority leader of the chamber, said he believes Justice Hector LaSalle is the wrong choice to serve as chief judge of the Court of Appeals and would further the bench’s conservative bent.

“Unfortunately, there appears to be a great possibility that Justice LaSalle would represent a continuation of the unacceptable status quo that has sullied the reputation of our state’s highest court,” he said in a statement.

A short time later, Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-Queens) became the 12th Democratic senator to signal they will not support LaSalle, citing what they view as a history of controversial opinions and his past work as a prosecutor.

Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Queens).

Opposition has increased by the day after Hochul named LaSalle last week as her pick to lead the Court of Appeals and replace former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who stepped down over the summer.

Advocates, progressives and labor leaders have painted LaSalle as an overtly conservative jurist whose track record includes opinions viewed as anti-union and anti-reproductive rights.

LaSalle, who would be the first Latino to lead the state’s court system, is currently the presiding justice of the state’s 2nd Appellate Division, which handles appeals from state courts in Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island.

The Suffolk County native isn’t without his backers.

Nearly two dozen former justices who have worked with LaSalle penned a letter to top lawmakers Wednesday saying they “wholeheartedly support without reservation” his nomination.

For now, though, his path to confirmation is unclear as more than enough of Hochul’s fellow Democrats, who hold a supermajority in the 63-seat Senate, have vowed to vote against LaSalle.

Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), who chairs the chamber’s Judiciary Committee, said Thursday he doesn’t see LaSalle’s nomination making it to a floor vote should it require Republican help to pass.

Judge Hector LaSalle

“We have a majority — and in fact, a supermajority — for a reason, which is to make certain that the values that we share, as Democrats, are reflected in our actions for the people of New York, and I don’t think a vote that required senate Republicans would be indicative of a chamber that put its values forward,” Hoylman told The Capitol Pressroom.

Politically powerful union leaders have also come out in force against LaSalle’s nomination over a 2015 opinion enabling now-defunct Cablevision to sue union leaders for criticizing the company’s response to Hurricane Sandy despite a state law meant to curb harassment of labor by management.

Hochul has so far stood by her choice and has not indicated she is willing to rescind the nomination.

“I’m standing with him. I’m proud of this selection,” the governor said last Friday. “I encourage everyone to give him the fair hearing that he’s entitled to.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul

LaSalle was one of seven candidates submitted to Hochul by the state’s Commission on Judicial Nomination following the sudden resignation of DiFiore in July.

The state’s top court has been highly criticized in recent years as a quartet of conservative-leaning judges led by DiFiore dominated decisions from the seven-member panel.

Most recently, the Court of Appeals took heat from some for overturning congressional and state Senate lines drawn up by the Democrat-led Legislature in a decision that split the state’s primaries and upended the election calendar.

Gianaris said his opposition to LaSalle is rooted in his desire to see the court take new direction.

“While I respect the governor’s prerogative to nominate a chief judge of her choosing, the most important criteria must be to ensure a change from the harmful tenure of Janet DiFiore and her three followers still serving on the Court of Appeals,” he said.

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