Democrat Civil War in New York State?
A couple of months removed from election victory, Governor Kathy Hochul is facing mutiny.
New York’s Democrat Governor Kathy Hochul is in the fight of her political life just weeks after being elected the state’s first female governor. It couldn’t happen to a “nicer” lady.
Hochul fell into the job in 2021 after the well-deserved resignation of her lecherous predecessor, Andrew Cuomo. As one of the nation’s worst “Branch Covidians,” she then barely won the 2022 contest because she underestimated her Republican opponent, former Representative Lee Zeldin.
Hochul got into a mess last week when the progressive wing of New York’s ruling Democrat Party marshaled forces to reject her nominee for chief judge of the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court.
In New York, statewide judicial nominees must be cleared by the state Senate Judiciary Committee before being voted up or down by the full Senate. This is generally a formality, as the committee has never voted down a governor’s nominee for chief judge. By outward appearances it also should have been a slam dunk for Hochul. Democrats hold a supermajority in both chambers of the state legislature, and the nominee checked all the boxes for a Democrat nominee.
Hector LaSalle is currently the presiding justice of the New York State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division covering Brooklyn, appointed by Cuomo in 2021. Prior to that, he served in the state attorney general’s office and held other appointed positions in appellate courts.
Hochul thought she was picking a respected jurist when she nominated LaSalle on December 22, an added bonus being that he would be New York’s first Latino chief judge of the Court of Appeals. But opposition to LaSalle appeared almost immediately from within the state Democrat coalition, many of whom consider Lasalle to be too — wait for it — conservative.
Of course, being “too conservative” in a blue state like New York, which has been under solid Democrat control for decades, is a weighted accusation. LaSalle is not conservative by any traditional sense of the word. Hochul may be trying to pick more agreeable nominees in an attempt to govern from the center in a state that is more Republican than she anticipated before the 2022 election. But she would never pick a real conservative.
No, what rankles Democrats, particularly the lefties of the New York City-based progressive wing, is Lasalle’s voting record on a handful of cases involving abortion rights and unions. A closer look at the cases at issue reveals that LaSalle was actually ruling on the merits, which is not something that leftists like to see. After all, they believe in the rule of power, not the rule of law. In New York State, following the letter of the law instead of outcome-based judgments is indeed “too conservative” for some.
But the state’s progressives are feeling strong. They rallied their forces, picked up support from other Democrats who were likewise unsure of LaSalle’s liberal bona fides, and voted down his Judiciary Committee nomination 10-9. All 10 senators who voted against were Democrats. Two Democrats voted in favor, and one Democrat voted with the committee’s six Republicans in favor “without recommendation.”
Hochul is currently mulling her options. She might pursue litigation to get LaSalle up for a vote by the full Senate, which the state constitution says has the power to advise and consent. At that point, though, LaSalle might be a poison pill that Hochul’s fellow Democrats don’t dare touch.
Hochul backed LaSalle despite clear opposition from several Democrats. Some will make the case that she didn’t have the political knowhow to read the situation and blindly got herself into a jam. It could also be argued that Hochul may indeed be trying to govern from the center and be respectful of all New Yorkers. If that’s the case, then it’s a good sign for more reasoned political debate. But it also means that her biggest enemy in the fight for fairness will be within her own Democrat Party.
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