Opposition to Judge Hector LaSalle's nomination to lead the state Court of Appeals continued to mount as a coalition of abortion rights advocates have signed onto a statement calling on Democrats in the state Senate to reject it and Gov. Kathy Hochul to withdraw him from consideration.
Hochul, however, has publicly defended LaSalle's bid to become the first Latino chief judge in New York, and stepped up efforts in recent days to defend the nomination amid opposition from her own party.
The highly unusual fight over the chief judge nomination could come to a head on Monday, when state Senate Democrats release an expanded roster of members of the Judiciary Committee, which will consider the LaSalle nomination before it can go to the full floor for a confirmation vote.
Top Democrats in the state Senate have signaled to Hochul confirmation is unlikely given the opposition from advocates for changes to the state's criminal justice laws and labor unions, who have pointed to what they say is a conservative judicial record as well as his background as a former assistant district attorney in Suffolk County.
On Monday, a coalition of advocates who support abortion rights and gender rights is set to announce their opposition, focusing on a ruling LaSalle backed in 2017 that addressed a subpoena to a so-called pregnancy crisis center. The facilities have come under scrutiny from supporters of abortion rights, and then-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was investigating whether the centers were providing dubious medical advice.
"As organizations, advocates, and scholars who work and write on issues of reproductive and gender justice, we are deeply troubled by the nomination of Justice Hector LaSalle to serve as Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals," the advocates said in a statement. "At a moment when the federal courts have gutted rights to reproductive autonomy, New York’s highest court should be a defender of New Yorkers’ reproductive and gender freedoms, not an ally in their diminution."
The groups include the National Organization for Women, Center for Reproductive Rights Union and the Center for Disability Rights as well as academics. All told, more than 50 organizations and academics backed the statement in opposition.
"Given his record, which includes curtailing a New York Attorney General investigation into predatory crisis pregnancy centers — a key weapon of the anti-abortion movement — we have grave concerns for a Court of Appeals headed by Justice LaSalle," they added. "We urge the New York Senate to reject his nomination and the Governor to nominate a jurist who will safeguard the rights of New Yorkers."
LaSalle's supporters have in recent days sought to bolster the nomination in the Senate. Retired Judge Jeffrey Cohen, who wrote the subpoena ruling, said in an interview with Spectrum News 1 the case was being taken out of context by opponents.
"What we did, proudly, was we tailored the subpoena to conform with First Amendment requirements and sent it back to the lower court," Cohen said.
Hochul on Friday signaled she wanted to move forward with the nomination and a confirmation hearing.
"I selected the very best person. Hector LaSalle has an exceptional record," Hochul told reporters late last week. "He'll be the person that will bring a fractured court together. He'll be fair. He'll be just."
The New York Post reported Sunday that Hochul has contacted individual state senators to save the nomination.
A hearing for LaSalle's nomination is yet to be scheduled. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Hoylman said in an interview last week one will be when the new Judiciary Committee members are set, a development that could come as soon as Monday.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in an interview with Capital Tonight last week said she "shares the concerns" of her members with LaSalle's nomination.