Amid growing pushback from fellow Democrats and labor unions, Gov. Kathy Hochul held an event alongside local Democrats in the Bronx on Saturday to rally support for her nomination of Hector LaSalle as the state’s chief judge.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Reps. Nydia Velázquez and Adriano Espaillat, state Sen. Luis Sepúlveda, and former Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. were among those who delivered speeches in support of LaSalle, urging their colleagues to give him a fair hearing.
“They all had their chance, not pre-judged, not labeled, not misrepresented, but treated fairly,” Hochul said. “That’s what we’re asking for: justice and fairness for a man who deserves it.”
Jeffries echoed support for LaSalle, who he said is “highly qualified to serve as the chief judge.”
“Period, full stop,” Jeffries said.
But at least a dozen Democrats have said they would vote against LaSalle’s appointment, including state Sen. Mike Gianaris, the second-highest-ranking member of the chamber.
LaSalle’s critics claim he’s anti-abortion and anti-union, partly because of past decisions in which he sided with a crisis pregnancy center and against a labor union.
Hochul and the state Senate’s Democratic majority are at odds over whether LaSalle’s confirmation requires a vote by the full Senate – where Hochul could have a better chance of convincing a broader mix of Democrats and Republicans – or just the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Senate has never rejected a governor’s nominee since New York changed the way top judges are selected in 1977. If Hochul or her allies are willing to sue, LaSalle’s confirmation hearing on Wednesday could turn into a drawn-out legal battle.
Jeffries said LaSalle was entitled to “a full up or down vote in front of the entire New York State Senate.”
Velázquez echoed Jeffries’ plea. “No matter how anyone feels about Hector LaSalle, he is entitled to a fair process,” she said.
In response to Saturday’s event, state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, chair of the state Senate’s judiciary committee, told Gothamist that the body sets its own rules.
“Those who haven’t served in the Senate are probably not familiar with our rules, with all due respect,” he said.
But speakers at the event also had some harsh words for their peers who oppose LaSalle’s nomination, accusing them of “misinformation” and “distortion” in the appointment process thus far.
“I am pissed off,” said state Sen. Luis Sepúlveda, claiming that his peers were “assassinating his [LaSalle’s] character and decisions.” He specifically singled out fellow Bronx state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who has come out in opposition to LaSalle’s appointment.
“I hope Sen. Rivera looks himself in the mirror,” Sepúlveda said. “Look at your conscience.”
In response, Rivera, who is of Puerto Rican descent, tweeted that “every leader must work to empower New Yorkers and build coalitions that measure success by impact and integrity, not identity.”
“So many phenomenal Latino leaders walked so I could run,” Rivera’s tweet continued. “That being said, I cannot support any nominee on the sole basis that they are a fellow Latino.”
LaSalle, who is also of Puerto Rican heritage, would be the first Latino top judge in New York. His background played a large role in Saturday’s event, with political operative Luis Miranda suggesting opposition to LaSalle’s appointment was motivated by racial bias.
“The only difference between him and the rest who have been appointed is that he is Latino,” Miranda said. “You have to say, ‘why are you changing the rules of the game?’”
Hoylman-Sigal said racial representation is crucial, but scrutiny of LaSalle’s nomination stemmed from his background as the presiding justice of the midlevel Appellate Division’s Second Department.
“If there is particular scrutiny of this candidate, it’s not only because of certain decisions that my colleagues find troubling, but because the specter of the U.S. Supreme Court’s right-wing decision-making looms overhead,” Hoylman-Sigal said.
With just days before the hearing, LaSalle has been making individual calls to state senators in hopes of winning their support. At least one political organizing group – based in Delaware – is urging New Yorkers to do the same.
Citizens for Judicial Fairness took out ads in the Daily News urging New Yorkers to call their state senators in support of LaSalle, the Queens Eagle reported. The group is also running social media ads with Latinos for LaSalle ahead of Wednesday’s hearing, drawing criticism from state Sen. Jabari Brisport.