ALBANY — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul was urged Monday to withdraw her nominee for chief justice by attorneys and lawmakers who claim he is overly conservative and would tilt the state’s top court too far to the right.
Hochul appointed Hector D. LaSalle to head the state appeals court just before Christmas, saying the veteran judge will focus on “expanding access to justice for New Yorkers.”
While Supreme Court nominations typically sail through the state Senate, LaSalle quickly drew opposition. Some progressive activists, union officials and Democratic senators claim his criminal record includes anti-abortion, anti-labor and anti-due trials.
“More than ever, we need our Court of Appeals to be the leaders in upholding our civil liberties, defending our democracy and protecting New Yorkers’ most vulnerable,” New York City Senator Kristen Gonzalez said at a State Capitol News conference.
She urged Hochul, another Democrat, to withdraw the nomination.
There was no comment from the Hochul administration on Monday.
Gonzalez is among 14 state senators who publicly opposed the nomination, according to activists. That would mean the Democrats, who control the Senate, don’t have enough votes to approve LaSalle without Republican votes.
If confirmed, LaSalle would become the first Latino to head the seven-member Supreme Court and oversee New York’s judicial system.
With the Senate due to decide the nomination this month, opponents have pushed their case forward. They claim that the New York Court of Appeals should counterbalance the conservative US Supreme Court.
LaSalle’s opponents have focused on several lower court rulings, including one they say threatened unionization.
James Mahoney of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers told reporters Hochul takes for granted allies at work who helped her win her first race as governor in November.
“She promised we’d be seated at the table,” Mahoney said. “She put us on the menu.”
LaSalle has some prominent supporters and labor opposition is not everywhere.
John Samuelsen, international president of the Transport Workers Union, said he wants to make a decision on LaSalle after a Senate hearing. And he asked the State Senate to schedule one.
“Let’s get down to business and let everyone decide for themselves,” he said in a phone interview.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said no hearing was scheduled for Monday.
LaSalle currently serves as chairman of the Second Department, where he oversaw the nation’s largest state appellate court with a budget of approximately $69 million. He was appointed to the position by the then governor in 2021. Andrew Cuomo.
Activists have claimed that New York’s Supreme Court has drifted to the right in recent years under former Chief Justice Janet DiFiore, who resigned this summer. State lawmakers were particularly upset after the court in April rejected new congressional tickets widely seen as favoring Democrats.