The state constitution says the governor has the power to appoint the chief judge of the state Court of Appeals with confirmation by the state Senate.
But some progressive Democratic senators are trying to derail the constitutional process by declaring their decision to vote against Gov. Kathy Hochul’s nominee, Judge Hector LaSalle, even before the entire
Senate has had an opportunity to vet him at a confirmation hearing.
The opponents are hoping that if enough of them say in advance that they’re going to vote against his confirmation or threaten to not even move his nomination out of committee, the governor will either withdraw LaSalle’s name and appoint someone more to their liking, or the pressure will force LaSalle to withdraw his name from consideration so that Hochul will be forced to nominate someone else.
That’s not how the process is supposed to work.
The Senate has an obligation to give the governor’s nominee a full hearing, allow him to answer questions about his record and qualifications and to demonstrate what kind of chief judge he will be.
The maneuver by the Democratic senators is also designed to negate the views of Senate Republicans before they have a chance to express them.
Opponents are concerned that because LaSalle has demonstrated conservative positions on women’s rights and defendants’ rights, some Republicans in the Senate will vote for the Democratic governor’s nominee, essentially overriding the Democratic opposition.
They say that as if there’s something somehow wrong or offensive in giving members of the minority party an opportunity to have their say on judicial nominees.
Republicans have just as much right to question and vote on the nominee as Democrats, even though Democrats currently hold a 41-21 majority over Republicans in the chamber.
To discount GOP input by not allowing Republicans to even question or vote on the nominee would negate votes of representatives of many New Yorkers, including two of our area’s GOP state senators, Jim Tedisco and Dan Stec.
If there was a question about the nominee’s qualifications for the office that would be one thing.
But that’s not the case.
Hochul was compelled to select a candidate for chief judge from a very short list of just seven jurists that was prepared by the 12-member state Commission on Judicial Nomination.
LaSalle was not only on the list, he was deemed “highly qualified.” He also is Latino, which would help diversify the court and broaden its perspective.
Among the members of the commission who apparently did not object to his nomination during the secret vetting process was an appointee of Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Senate majority leader.
LaSalle also has gotten strong recommendations from numerous judges, as well as the president of the New York State Bar Association, which regularly offers opinions on the qualifications of judges.
NYSBA President Sherry Levin Wallach said in a press release that LaSalle “has demonstrated a keen ability to build consensus and to increase productivity substantially in one of the busiest appellate courts in the nation,” and that he “possesses a remarkable intellect and has deep practical knowledge of the courts and the challenges they face.”
That sounds like someone who should at least be heard before senators outright reject him.
This effort to force the governor to select another chief judge is not about qualifications but about politics.
The Democratic opponents to LaSalle’s nomination, as well as some progressive groups, unions and lobbying organizations, are worried about the high court’s recent shift to the right, and they want to force Hochul to support someone with more liberal credentials.
There’s only one way to determine whether LaSalle is qualified to serve as chief judge of the Court of Appeals. That is to hold a full hearing before the full Senate, where senators can raise questions about his positions and credentials to determine whether he is truly the best person to serve in this important position.
To force him out prematurely would be a disservice to the governor, to LaSalle, to the state constitution and to the people of New York.
Give him a hearing. Have a vote. Proceed from there.