Judge Hector LaSalle supporters say he sticks to the letter of the law while opponents point to past decisions they claim show he is too conservative for New York.

NEWS: Kathy Hochul court pick Hector LaSalle faces key test in Albany on Wednesday

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ALBANY — A Wednesday state Senate hearing in the Capitol could make or break Gov. Kathy Hochul’s hold on power — just weeks into her newly-won term in office.

Left-leaning members of Hochul’s democratic Party want to block the nomination of Judge Hector LaSalle to be New York’s top jurist saying he is not progressive enough — even though his record shows him to be a moderate.

“The progressives stop Judge LaSalle’s appointment? They are on their way to controlling state government and neutralizing the governor,” political consultant Hank Sheinkopf told The Post Tuesday.

LaSalle will have a chance to make an opening statement at the 10 a.m. hearing before the 19 members of the newly expanded state Senate Judiciary Committee, who will question him for two rounds ahead of deliberations about his bid to become the first Latino to lead the Court of Appeals.

He would need at least 32 votes in the 63-member chamber to get confirmed.

A majority of the committee could vote yes or no on the nomination or simply move it without a recommendation to the full chamber for an up or down floor vote, which Hochul has claimed is constitutionally required despite objections by state Senate Democrats.

“I expect a fair and thorough hearing, one that provides some respect for the process and the nominee as well a vetting of his decisions and views on where he would like to take New York’s court system,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), who said any floor vote would not happen this week, said.

Judge Hector LaSalle’s supporters say he sticks to the letter of the law while opponents point to past decisions they claim show he is too conservative for New York.

Opponents have argued that a handful of decisions involving LaSalle show that he is too conservative on issues like abortion, labor rights and due process for criminal defendants while his supporters say he is an experienced jurist whose past work has been taken out of context.

But what may really be driving the foes is that LaSalle’s confirmation would keep the Court of Appeals from leaning toward the progressive vision they want after years of a relatively centrist court under former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who resigned amid scandal last summer.

Both sides seemingly agree on how Hochul has bungled the nomination in recent weeks after progressive senators and union allies warned her against picking LaSalle so soon after they helped her win an unexpectedly tough gubernatorial race against Republican Lee Zeldin.

“It’s an unforced error. The only reason this is still a fight is because the Second Floor is fundamentally misreading the politics,” one Democratic insider said of the governor, whose Capitol offices are below the third floor state Senate chamber.

So many Democrats have come out against LaSalle that Hochul will need most if not all of the 21-member Republican state Senate minority to get his nomination approved if Senate Democrats do not block it in committee.

“The realities are that in my conference, the numbers are not there,” state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said of LaSalle’s nomination in a recent interview with Gotham Gazette.

Hochul has stood by LaSalle despite waves of attacks from progressives opposed to him becoming the first Latino to lead the state judiciary.
Hochul has stood by LaSalle despite waves of attacks from progressives opposed to him becoming the first Latino to lead the state judiciary.
Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

Yet, Hochul has not backed down from the escalating fight with her longtime political allies in the Legislature.

“Dr. King called upon us to be just and be fair and not judge people,’’ Hochul said Sunday before heralding LaSalle as “a good man and a great judge.”

“We don’t want to be judged ourselves, do we?” she said. “I know in my heart we’re better than that.

Hochul has further angered Senate Democrats by leaving her legal options open to sue the Senate if the nomination does not get a vote by the full Senate after the committee hearing.

“This is a ridiculous hill to die on at this point, and the fight has a lot of consequences. Puts Latinos against Latinos. No one wins here,” political consultant Camille Rivera said.

Her willingness to continue pushing for the nomination despite the odds contrasts with presidents who dumped controversial judicial nominations when they appeared to no longer be worth the political costs, another Democratic insider said.

“If a president senses that his nominee for a judgeship or agency is facing near-certain opposition, he revokes the nomination. This is frankly bizarre and sets a poor tone for the new legislative session,” the source said.

But anything short of victory, however, could inflict deep political damage on Hochul just as she begins her first full term in office amid an “extremely high stakes” face-off with the Democratic state Senate supermajority, Baruch College public affairs professor Doug Muzzio said.

“The governor takes a beating if LaSalle isn’t confirmed. A rejection of the nomination would be a right shot to the head,” he added said.

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