Who Runs New York?
A bare power struggle over a top judge
On Wednesday, January 18th, the New York State Senate will hold a hearing on a candidate for chief judge of the Court of Appeals, New York’s version of the Supreme Court. Since the 1970s, when judges were first appointed by governors and confirmed by the State Senate, these have been unremarkable affairs, barely covered in the press. A governor sent up a candidate and the upper chamber of the legislature rubberstamped them. Andrew Cuomo, who was governor for more than a decade, never struggled to reshape the court how he saw fit. The Republican-controlled State Senate confirmed his nominees, whether they were relative liberals or registered Republicans. The Democratic Senate did as well. Cuomo’s picks tended to be conservative, including the retired chief judge, Janet DiFiore, and this probably helped him with the GOP-run Senate.
Much has changed in the last year. It’s looking increasingly likely that Kathy Hochul, Cuomo’s successor, will fail to see her nominee for chief judge, Hector LaSalle, confirmed by the Senate. LaSalle, a former Suffolk County prosecutor, is an otherwise unremarkable judge who ruled on at least two cases that have infuriated the left—one that allowed the company now known as Cablevision to sue a union for defamation, and another that shielded anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy” centers from scrutiny. Many large labor unions are united in their opposition to LaSalle. Most progressive Democrats in the Senate have come out against him before the hearing, as have a number of moderates troubled by his record. If LaSalle is going to get confirmed, he’ll need Republican votes. The Senate minority leader, Robert Ortt, has signaled his openness to LaSalle, but there are plenty of other Republicans who may be reluctant to help out a Democratic governor who is deeply unpopular in their districts.