early and often

State Senate Deals Governor Hochul a Major Embarrassment

Photo: Hans Pennink/AP/Shutterstock

Judge Hector LaSalle’s nomination to the Court of Appeals was rejected in a vote by the full State Senate Wednesday, putting an end to the weeks-long saga that found Governor Kathy Hochul at odds with her fellow Democratic lawmakers in Albany. The vote, which came in at 39-20 against LaSalle, arrived nearly one month after he was voted down by the chamber’s Judiciary Committee. LaSalle was seated in the gallery when the final tally was announced.

In a statement, Hochul, who had been pushing for the entire Senate to take up her nominee, called the vote “overdue” and praised LaSalle, calling him “an overwhelmingly qualified and talented jurist.”

The path to the vote was a winding one. In late December, Hochul announced that she had selected LaSalle to fill the coveted chief judge position on New York’s highest court, which would have made the longtime judge the first Latino to hold that role. But Hochul’s announcement was met with swift opposition from fellow Democrats who had concerns that some of LaSalle’s past decisions were too conservative, particularly on the issues of abortion and union rights.

During its hearing for LaSalle’s nomination, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled the nominee for five hours, but the panel ultimately voted against him, 10-9. Afterward, Hochul questioned the fairness of the hearing, calling its outcome “predetermined,” since many of the committee members had made their stance on LaSalle known before officially considering him. Despite a seemingly no-win situation and the prospect of a major political embarrassment, Hochul didn’t pull LaSalle’s nomination. Speculation began to grow that she might take legal action against the Senate, based on the premise that the state’s constitution requires a nomination to receive a vote from the full body, not just a committee.

While Hochul mulled it over, she got help from a somewhat unlikely source: Republican Senator Anthony Palumbo, the Judiciary Committee’s ranking member. Palumbo filed a lawsuit to force a floor vote on LaSalle, saying in a statement that LaSalle is “entitled to an up or down vote by the full State Senate, not as courtesy, but because the constitution requires it.”

Now that the Senate has made itself clear, Hochul intends to select a new nominee for the crucial judgeship. Presumably, the next one won’t have trouble finding Democratic votes.

State Senate Deals Governor Hochul a Major Embarrassment