Kathy Hochul is really, really mad Dem senators won't just put her prosecutor on New York's high court already
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus Christ himself would give Hector LaSalle a vote, and other unbelievable arguments from New York's governor. Update: The Senate rejected the nominee.
At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the New York Senate Judiciary Committee will consider Gov. Kathy Hochul’s nomination of Hector LaSalle to be the chief judge of the state’s Court of Appeals, the top court in New York, despite the fact that he lacks sufficient Democratic support for the nomination.
[Update at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 18: The Senate Judiciary Committee, after a five-hour hearing voted against advancing LaSalle’s nomination to the full Senate. Only 2 Democrats vote for the nomination. In addition, 1 Democrat and the 6 Republicans on the committee voted to give no recommendation, a vote that would nonetheless allow the nomination to go to the floor. The 10 remaining Democrats, however, representing a majority of the committee, voted against the nomination. Later Wednesday, the Senate majority leader and Senate secretary sent formal notice to Hochul that the nomination was rejected.]
LaSalle, a former prosecutor, has been opposed by unions, abortion rights groups, and criminal justice progressives based on his decisions — as well as by more than a dozen Democratic senators.
Ordinarily, this nomination would be dead. It would have been pulled, and we would not be forced to go through this process for a judicial nominee who clearly is seen by many members of Hochul’s party as outside the mainstream of the party.
And yet, Hochul has done no such thing. To the contrary, she has quintupled down (or more) — first ignoring an advance warning from law professors about LaSalle, then ignoring the immediate pushback to the announcement, then continuing with the nomination even after the necessary number of Democrats opposed the nomination to mean Republican support would be required. And all of that happened before the new year!
Nonetheless, in the new year, Hochul continued pressing forward against her own party, culminating in an outright offensive speech in a Brooklyn church this Sunday in which she somehow said that … putting LaSalle’s nomination to a vote is what Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wanted.
As reported at Hellgate, a NYC publication, Hochul said, in part, at Trinity Lutheran Church in Sunset Park:
Dr. King called upon us to be just and to be fair and to not judge people. And that has not been afforded to an individual named Judge Hector LaSalle. And I know in my heart that we’re better than that. …
My household knew the story of Dr. King. In fact, I did a book report on him when I was a little girl while he was still alive. When he was gunned down, assassinated, my family sat there and held hands and wept. How could this be? How could this man of God who taught us about nonviolence and social justice and change, and not judging people by the color of their skin, or one or two cases out of 5,000 cases decided. …
[H]e deserves to be treated the same way every other candidate was, as every other candidate was, every other person put forth by a judge in the history of our state, because that's the fairness, the justice, that’s required by all of us, not just through our teachings, not just through Christ’s teachings, but also the influence of Dr. King, who we honor this weekend.
Earlier in the weekend, Hochul brought some of the state’s congressional delegation into the fight. On Saturday, House Democratic Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and others got on stage with Hochul to back a nominee opposed by many key constituencies of the party within which Jeffries is now one of the key national leaders.
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It is, all in all, very weird to have a Democratic governor in a Democratic trifecta state needing to hold pep rallies for her own state-level nominee featuring federal-level Democratic lawmakers in support.
Again, to some elected leaders, that would be a pretty clear sign that you’d done something wrong.
For Hochul, however, she appears to be taking more of an Andrew Cuomo approach: Any opposition from within her party is just more of a sign that they are wrong and that she should stand firm. (There are also growing signs that Hochul is preparing to battle beyond Wednesday, even if the Judiciary Committee rejects her nominee.1)
This — in addition to the substantive questions raised by the nomination — raises a secondary problem: All of this pushback comes across as condescension to those who are the respected leaders in these fields.
Unions oppose LaSalle. Hochul and her LaSalle supporters’ refrain: “Well, let me explain why they’re wrong on that front.”
Abortion rights leaders oppose LaSalle. Hochul and her LaSalle supporters’ refrain: “Well, let me explain why they’re wrong on that front.”
Criminal justice progressives oppose LaSalle. Hochul and her LaSalle supporters’ refrain: “Well, let me explain why they’re wrong on that front.”
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund opposes LaSalle. Hochul and her LaSalle supporters’ refrain: “Well, let me explain why they’re wrong on that front.”
At some point, Hochul’s defense of LaSalle becomes less important to her and her political future than does her repeated dismissal of those who elected her and Democrats across the country. That dismissal, regardless of what happens with LaSalle, is going to last well beyond this nomination.
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But first, and because his Judiciary Committee consideration is Wednesday, back to Hector LaSalle.
Because LaSalle is so questionable of a nominee on multiple fronts, what might have been the main concern with him going into the process has fallen into the background. As law students Melanie Nault and Jack Travis put it in Slate over the weekend, LaSalle’s “nomination also perpetuates a serious lack of professional diversity on New York’s highest court.”
Prosecutors and corporate attorneys are severely overrepresented among judges generally, and the Court of Appeals is no exception. Half of the current members of the Court of Appeals are former prosecutors, despite prosecutors making up only about 14 percent of attorneys in the U.S. As both a former prosecutor and corporate attorney, LaSalle would further this imbalance.
In other words, beyond everything else, LaSalle is a bad pick — particularly from a Democrat — because he would exacerbate the dramatic imbalance in who sits in judgment on our courts.
Mark Joseph Stern cited that piece to make the point that this is precisely the opposite direction taken by President Biden, who has worked — up to the U.S. Supreme Court — to get more professional diversity represented on the courts.
In summary, and quite to the contrary of Hochul’s claims, the opposition to LaSalle is not about who he is, the part of King’s efforts used by Hochul in her political speech to rally support for LaSalle (itself, of course, an incomplete description of King’s aims).
The opposition to Hector LaSalle is, instead, centered around the decisions LaSalle has made, both on the bench and as a lawyer before he became a judge, and the effects of those decisions on the people he would judge — and has judged.
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This parenthetical was added as an update at 9:45 p.m.