NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York’s state Senate on Wednesday rejected Governor Kathy Hochul’s choice to become the state’s highest-ranking judge, a defeat for the state’s top Democrat who failed to overcome opposition from her own party to the nomination.
Hochul’s choice, Hector LaSalle, is the presiding justice of a midlevel state appeals court in Brooklyn, and would have been the first Hispanic chief judge of the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.
Many progressive Democrats objected to the nomination, expressing concern that LaSalle was too conservative, including on issues relating to abortion rights and unions.
Many had hoped Hochul would replace former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore with a more liberal judge.
DiFiore and the other six Court of Appeals judges had been nominated by Hochul or her Democratic predecessor Andrew Cuomo.
But progressives feared that LaSalle would join a four-judge bloc and prolong what they view as the panel’s rightward tilt.
That included an April 2022 decision that threw out a Democratic-drawn congressional redistricting map. Republicans picked up three seats in the House of Representatives after the map was redrawn.
LaSalle’s rejection came as Hochul was preparing to negotiate a new state budget with legislators.
The 39-20 vote came after a Republican senator had sued last week to force a floor vote, which the Senate Judiciary Committee had blocked in January.
According to published reports, senators voted almost entirely along party lines, with Democrats opposing and Republicans supporting LaSalle’s nomination.
“This vote is an important victory for the Constitution,” Hochul said in a statement. “But it was not a vote on the merits of Justice LaSalle, who is an overwhelmingly qualified and talented jurist.
“Now that the full Senate has taken a vote, I will work toward making a new nomination,” she continued. “I remain committed to selecting a qualified candidate to lead the court and deliver justice. That is what New Yorkers deserve.”
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)