The resignation of New York’s Chief Justice Janet DeFiore a few months ago has given Governor Kathy Hochul an opportunity to appoint the new chief of the state’s Court of Appeals. But an ultra-progressive contingent in the state legislature is turning the appointment process into a circus wholly unbefitting the judiciary.
Under New York’s judicial selection procedures, Governor Hochul must choose from among the candidates recommended by the state’s Commission on Judicial Nomination. The Commission presented the governor with a list of seven candidates in late November, and she ultimately nominated Hector LaSalle, a longtime Justice on the state’s Appellate Division. That is when the trouble started. Progressive activists immediately rejected Justice LaSalle as one of three so-called “conservative” judges whose appointment would be “unacceptable.” LaSalle’s crime? “[F]requently dissenting from majority opinions [on the appellate division] that reversed criminal defendants’ convictions.”
Given LaSalle’s long and distinguished judicial career, including almost a decade on the Appellate Division bench (where he was appointed by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo), it is disgraceful to watch his nomination be undermined by the ugliest kind of partisan activism. All the more so because LaSalle comes with the highest recommendations from the New York State Trial Lawyers Association and the New York State Bar Association, two organziations that actually know what they are talking about.
But it gets even worse. Hochul herself does not appear to have chosen LaSalle because of his legal chops, but rather primarily because of his demographic identity. She is apparently set on appointing a Latino to the state’s highest court, and LaSalle was the only candidate on the seven-person slate that fit that bill. So the nomination will go forward to an ugly and uncertain vote, with everything centered on the judge’s ethnicity and activists’ wish lists, and absolutely nothing focused on his judicial skill, experience, temperament, or leadership ability.
What a shame.