Gov. Kathy Hochul and other prominent state Democrats and Latino leaders on Saturday demanded the governor’s chief judge nominee receive a fair hearing on Wednesday, pushing back on claims by liberal lawmakers that Hector D. LaSalle is too conservative and his nomination should be withdrawn.
Hochul, appearing at the Latino Pastoral Action Center Leadership meeting, pledged to stand by LaSalle — a veteran judge who, if confirmed, would become the first Latino to lead the seven-member high court and oversee New York’s judicial system. She called him “eminently qualified” for the job.
“I examined all the records. I saw all the cases, even those that are being maligned and used against him and … they’ve been falsely represented. And that’s what I will not stand for,” said Hochul, arguing that past nominees have not been “prejudged” and “misrepresented” like LaSalle.
While top court nominations typically sail through the state Senate, LaSalle quickly drew opposition. Some progressive activists, union officials and Democratic senators claim his judicial record is anti-abortion, anti-labor and anti-due process and his appointment would tilt the state’s top court too far to the right.
“Now more than ever, we need our Court of Appeals to be the leader in safeguarding our civil liberties, in defending our democracy and protecting the most vulnerable New Yorkers,” state Sen. Kristen Gonzalez of New York City said at recent a state Capitol news conference. She urged Hochul to pull the nomination.
Debate over LaSalle’s nomination has led to a split among one-time political allies.
“It’s been difficult. I get calls, I get threats from the very same people who I fought with to pass one of the most progressive pieces of legislation in the last 25 years,” said state Sen. Luis R. Sepúlveda, referring to a recent law that allows access to driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status.
“These were my friends,” Sepúlveda told the crowd. “But I tell them what I tell all of you. I don’t care if this fight costs me my political career. This is the hill I’m going to die on.” Sepúlveda is in favor of LaSalle’s nomination.
LaSalle currently serves as a presiding justice of the Second Department, where he led the largest state appellate court in the nation with a budget of about $69 million. He was appointed to that position in 2021 by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore stepped down last summer.