Hector LaSalle, Gov. Kathy Hochul's nominee for chief judge, leaves...

Hector LaSalle, Gov. Kathy Hochul's nominee for chief judge, leaves after testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday in Albany. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

Justice Hector LaSalle, nominated by Gov. Kathy Hochul to lead New York’s top court, was framed by the Democratic leadership of the State Senate. Their disgraceful and dishonest behavior is an embarrassment to New York.

LaSalle, a Brentwood native of Puerto Rican descent, would be the first Latino chief judge of the Court of Appeals. He skillfully and insightfully answered questions for more than four hours Wednesday during his Judiciary Committee hearing. He demonstrated how he would be an exemplary jurist as well  as an outstanding administrator of the state court system, but the Democrats had rigged the process against him.

Progressives who want the state court to advance their policy agenda twisted his record in the weeks leading up his hearing. And when their efforts to make Hochul withdraw the nomination or intimidate LaSalle didn't work, they stacked the Judiciary Committee to add three more votes in their favor, including two senators who had already declared their opposition to him. The nomination failed to advance to the floor Wednesday by a 10-9 vote; without this last-minute stacking of the deck, LaSalle's nomination would have been approved.

It was an outrageous and arrogant move that now requires the question to be asked: Is Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins simply a follower of her most radical members?

LaSalle is no conservative as falsely claimed. His record is one of a moderate judge who, as he said, considers “the facts, the record and the law“ in making decisions. And he pointedly reminded his Senate critics that if they want the state to adopt certain progressive policies, they should pass laws reflecting those views. It was a clear reminder that a cadre who can't achieve what it wants legislatively is trying to hijack the seven-member court for its own ends.

All five Long Island senators on the committee voted to advance the nomination to the floor. Democrat Kevin Thomas, a former Legal Aid lawyer, was one of only two Democrats to vote in favor of the nomination. That was a refreshing show of independence. And all four Long Island Republicans on the committee deserve credit for saying they respected the governor's prerogative to make the nomination, and that it wasn't their role to reject a qualified candidate just because he wasn't someone they would have selected. Sens. Anthony Palumbo, Jack Martins, Patricia Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick, and Steven Rhoads showed respect for the Senate as an institution and for the state Constitution. 

Hochul must continue to fight for LaSalle even if that means suing the Senate to force his nomination to the floor for a vote by the full chamber. The state Constitution says judicial appointees should be confirmed or rejected by the Senate, not by this stacked Judiciary Committee which has amply demonstrated its intent to thwart that confirmation process.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.