The judges’ fight in New York reveals an ideological divide among Democrats

Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

While Washington’s Democrats have been almost in lockstep under President Biden, New York’s Democrats are exposing the ideological chasms within the party that could define Kathy Hochul’s governorship.

Why it matters: Gov. Hochul’s uncomfortably close re-election would not have been possible without the help of the progressives’ 11-hour campaign to lead her to victory.

  • but Progressives inflicted an unprecedented defeat on Hochul this week when they rejected her election for the state’s chief justice over concerns about his stance on abortion and unions.

The scenery: New York lawmakers voted against Hector LaSalle, a Democratic appellate judge who would have been the first Latino to be the state’s chief justice.

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee rejected LaSalle after a five-hour confirmation hearing and months of criticism from progressives, labor unions and reproductive rights leaders.
  • “Serious concerns” have been raised about LaSalle’s record on “reproductive choice, discrimination, immigration and the protection of victims of domestic violence,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Brad Hoylman-Sigal said at the hearing.

Zoom in: The committee’s rejection prevents the measure from reaching the Senate, but Governor Hochul looks to the state constitution for next steps, as it requires the “advice and approval” of the state Senate when appointing the chief justice.

  • “Several senators explained how they would vote before the hearing even began — including those who were recently awarded seats on the newly expanded Judiciary Committee,” Hochul told Gothamist.

The big picture: Labor and reproductive rights groups have been criticizing Hochul’s choice for months.

  • In 2015, LaSalle joined a majority decision that allowed the employer to sue union leaders for defamation. In 2017, he joined a ruling that ruled that part of the state’s investigation into anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers was unconstitutional.
  • In his 10-minute opening statement at the confirmation hearing, LaSalle said he supports the right of unions to organize and that he is personally a supporter of the election.

What you say: “New York deserves a Chief Justice who can make history without contradicting the values ​​of our community or compromising our rights. We deserve so much better,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote in an email to supporters last week.

  • “Judge Hector LaSalle has unfortunately shown his willingness to put the interests of companies ahead of workers, which is troubling in a state with a long history of supporting workers’ rights,” said Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO .

  • “Like any judge, I know that not everyone agrees with every verdict, but I can promise you that in every case I have made and will continue to make an effort to give everyone a fair chance to listen carefully to the arguments and do my best.” It is best to apply the law to the facts before us and work with my colleagues to achieve a fair and equitable outcome,” LaSalle told the committee.

Zoom out: Throughout the week leading up to the election, the Working Families Party — an outside group campaigning for progressive labor movements — spent half a million dollars, sent 2 million text messages and made 250,000 phone calls to help Hochul and her GOP challenger Rep. Lee to stop Zeldin, per Politico.

Something to see: Gov. Hochul could sue the Senate committee to bring LaSalle to the full House for a vote, and she hasn’t ruled that out, telling reporters earlier this week: “[W]We are certainly evaluating all our options.”

Source