Before 2022 came to a close, Governor Kathy Hochul picked Judge Hector Daniel LaSalle as her nominee for the next Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals. LaSalle would be the first person of Latino heritage to assume the position. In addition, LaSalle will also be the first person of color to be Chief Judge. While LaSalle’s nomination has caused excitement in the Latino community and other communities of color, it has also been denounced by progressives including Democratic legislators in the state senate, law professors, and labor unions.
LaSalle, a native New Yorker, is the first in his family to attend university. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Pennsylvania State University and his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Michigan Law School.
LaSalle is the Presiding Justice of the Second Department Appellate Division. Throughout his career, LaSalle has presided over 5,000 cases including 3,000 in the Appellate Division in the busiest state appellate court in the country. LaSalle’s distinguished career has earned him the respect and support of his peers for the role of Chief Judge including bar associations such as bar associations, including the New York State Bar Association, Hispanic Bar Association, Puerto Rican Bar Association, Latino Lawyers Association of Queens, Dominican Bar Association, Hudson Valley Hispanic Bar Association, Defense Association of New York, and the New York State Trial Lawyers Association.
LaSalle’s detractors have pointed at his history as a law and order prosecutor and supposed right-wing leanings as evidence he is not the right choice. The chief judge nominee is accused of making decisions in a number of his court cases that adversely affected women’s rights and labor issues. At the time of LaSalle’s nomination, Democrat Senators clearly expressed their displeasure with the decision.
According to Spectrum News, a week after LaSalle’s nomination, 12 state senators have publicly said they would not be supporting his installation.
New York Law professors at higher education institutions wrote a letter to Governor Hochul against LaSalle’s nomination. “We are New York law professors, writing to express our concerns about the possible nomination of Justice Hector LaSalle, one of the seven candidates for the position of Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals. Some of Justice LaSalle’s decisions, which we link to below, betray a cavalier attitude towards reproductive rights, hostility to organized labor, and a worrying insensitivity to due process. At a time when federal courts are increasingly inhospitable to individual rights claims, we are worried that Justice LaSalle’s activist conservative jurisprudence will take our State’s law in the wrong direction,” the letter stated. It went on to cite the cases in which LaSalle made decisions they do not agree with. The letter was signed by all the professors.
While LaSalle has received a vote of no confidence from other quarters, he has also received support from some quarters. LaSalle has received support from the legal fraternity, with some former judges saying he is the right man for the job. Former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said, “If you want to keep crime down, if you want to keep make sure justice is served … You have to have someone who understands the institution, how it works, how the courts work, and who would understand that better than [LaSalle]?” He continued, “That’s how you help human beings: to get their day in court, to get justice.”
The Latino community has supported him, viewing his nomination as a progressive step for them. LaSalle has received backing from prominent players in the Latino community. A website called latinosforlasalle.com was set up shortly after Governor Hochul’s announcement, with #ConfirmLaSalleNow serving as a hashtag. The website includes commentary and news articles supporting LaSalle.
LaSalle is also supported by other communities of color, including the African community and Bangladeshi communities.
New York State Senator Luis Sepúlveda said, “The adversities that have arisen as soon as Governor Kathy Hochul nominated the Honorable Judge Hector LaSalle to the highest position in the New York judiciary are unprecedented. From the outset, we were made aware of efforts to misinterpret the Judge’s decisions and change the rule for the sole purpose of avoiding his confirmation hearing and subsequent vote by the full Senate. This has caused me great consternation because it has never happened before. The governor’s nomination is a courageous one, is based on the qualities of this great professional, and should have been treated like other nominations for this position in the past. This is a landmark event for historically disadvantaged communities, not just the Latino community, but all sectors that have been treated with different standards. It is because of this, my convictions, and the qualifications of this professional that I will do everything in my power to ensure a fair, respectful, and just process as mandated by our constitution.”
Governor Hochul, elected officials, and members of the Latino community used the Latino Pastoral Action Center Leadership Meeting to reiterate their support for LaSalle. Several political leaders include Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, Congressman Adriano Espaillat, Senator Luis Sepulveda, Former Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and several others. “He ran for office, he got elected, he was appointed, and for years now, he has been presiding over one of the most complicated, difficult courts in our nation. Hundreds and hundreds of people come to those doors every day in the Appellate Division. He presides over that,” said Hochul.
She continued, “With the right temperament, the right disposition, all the qualities you want to see in a judge of fairness and doing what’s right. And so, to this community, I want to hear your voices. I thank you for standing with him, all across the state. This is just one community, but all across the state, people are expecting him to have the process, the fairness that has been accorded every other similarly-situated nominee in the history of our state. They all had their chance, not prejudged, not labeled, not misrepresented, but treated fairly. That’s what we’re asking for, justice and fairness for a man who deserves it,” said Hochul, referring to LaSalle’s qualities.
The governor and LaSalle’s supporters have fanatically supported him, asking that he be treated fairly and be afforded a fair hearing. The continued disagreement between Hochul and her Democrat colleagues, who are just as fiercely anti-LaSalle, is likely to develop into an interesting political tussle.
For Hochul to confirm LaSalle, she will need the support of 32 senators in the 63-member chamber.
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