Gov. Hochul should hold her ground against left-wing state senators who want to tank her nomination of centrist judge Hector LaSalle to lead the state’s highest court, a pair of her predecessors say.
“If Gov. Hochul can’t get her nomination to the Court of Appeals through, we will have a figurehead as governor for the next four years and the left-wing lawmakers will control the judiciary,” Republican ex-Gov. George Pataki told The Post Friday.
“This is a defining moment of her governorship,” he added.
Progressives, organized labor groups and criminal justice reformers have called for Hochul to pull her pick of LaSalle following criticism of a handful of past rulings he supported while serving on the state Supreme Court Appellate Division’s Second Department in Brooklyn.
His supporters say he merely prioritized the rule of law over lefty policy priorities.
Democratic former Gov. David Paterson, who also served in the state Senate, said lawmakers ought to at least give LaSalle a chance to explain himself before torpedoing his chances of becoming the first Latino to ever lead the state judiciary.
“This is why we have a process. This is why we have hearings,” he told The Post.
So many Democratic state senators have already said they oppose LaSalle that the judge will likely need some Republican support to get the 32 votes he needs in the 63-member state Senate.
“Judge LaSalle is a highly qualified, experienced, and respected jurist, and his historic nomination deserves a full hearing and confirmation process,” Hochul said Friday, fighting back against his critics.
“I expect that the Senate will fulfill their constitutional duties and engage in a robust, fair process. I know that Judge LaSalle is the best candidate for the job, and I believe that when Senators hear from him directly, they will agree,” she added.
State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins did not provide comment Friday about the state of the LaSalle nomination.
But a growing list of powerful unions like the AFL-CIO, liberal advocacy groups, and state Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) — who played a key role in scuttling plans for an Amazon satellite headquarters in NYC — want to stop the nomination before it ever reaches the floor of the upper chamber.
“The most important criteria must be to ensure a change from the harmful tenure of [ex-Chief Judge] Janet DiFiore,” Gianaris said Thursday.
“Unfortunately, there appears to be a great possibility that Justice LaSalle would represent a continuation of the unacceptable status quo that has sullied the reputation of our state’s highest court,” he added.
The Manhattan Democratic Party’s executive committee also called Thursday night for Hochul to withdraw the LaSalle nomination despite efforts by US Rep. Adriano Espaillat to defend both the governor and the jurist. The resolution passed with 38 “yes” votes and 20 abstentions after roughly 45 minutes of discussion.
On the other side of the argument, a group dubbed Latinos for LaSalle debuted this week to lend its support to the judge — with big liberal names like former mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer, former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and political operative Luis Miranda signing on.
“Over and over again, white judicial nominees have been given the opportunity to speak openly about their records and answer questions before the public,” the group said in a statement. “People who have supported other Chief Judge candidates are seeking to deny Hector LaSalle the same opportunity at an official hearing are promoting a double-standard and anti-democratic.
“As Gov. Hochul expressed, we expect that the Senate will fulfill its constitutional duties and engage in a robust, fair process,” the statement added.
Hochul has yet to court Republican support publicly, insisting that enough Democrats would change their minds about LaSalle once they hear from him directly to ensure he would get approved for the job.
“The governor is on solid ground, asking the other members of the Democratic conference to vote with her because it’s an insurgence by – at least to this point – only 12 members of a 63-member body,” Paterson suggested
That leaves 51 other members who might be convinced to support LaSalle — as Hochul gets ready to unveil her proposed state budget while mulling whether or not to sign a bill bumping legislative pay from $110,000 to $142,000 per year.
Pataki wielded the threat of his veto pen in a similar situation in 1998, dangling more money for lawmakers while pushing them to allow charter schools to open in the state.
“Hochul’s got to say, `If I don’t get my judge and bail reform, you don’t get your pay raise,’” Pataki said Friday.
While Republicans might not be inclined to give a Democratic governor a win, they might also be swayed by the fact that LaSalle may be the most centrist judge possible to lead the Court of Appeals.
“If they just wanted to embarrass her, they could jump right now … but all they would do is embarrass her. The next day she’s still governor – and she has a memory,” Paterson said.
The court has played a leading role in thwarting progressive efforts to push New York leftward in recent years, including a controversial decision earlier this year that invalidated a so-called “Hochulmander” of the state congressional map that contributed to Democrats losing control of the House of Representatives this November.
But Pataki said progressive legislators are playing political hardball like never before with Hochul – and she has good reason to continue to fight for her choice.
“You’re letting Mike Gianaris run the state [if LaSalle fails],” he said. “This is the guy who gave us unconstitutional reapportionment, this is the guy who killed the Amazon deal to create jobs.
“The Democratic majority in the state Senate is trying to block the nomination of a Democratic governor. This is unprecedented.”