Labor groups are at odds over supporting Gov. Kathy Hochul's nominee to lead the state's top court and its judiciary system on Monday called for Justice Hector LaSalle to be given a fair hearing on Wednesday as he faces a key hurdle to confirmation.
Criminal justice advocates and some labor unions, meanwhile, continued to urge Hochul to withdraw LaSalle's nomination in the face of opposition from more than a dozen Democrats in the state Senate.
The opposition to a chief judge nominee and judge to sit on the Court of Appeals is virtually unprecedented in the 40 years since the process was placed in the hands of the governor and state Senate. A confirmation hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.
If confirmed, LaSalle would be the first Latino chief judge in New York. But opponents have pointed to rulings they contend are anti-labor, including his joining with an opinion that made it easier for bosses to sue union leaders.
At the same time, criminal justice advocates have sought a nominee in recent years who has a background as a public defender, not a prosecutor. More broadly, progressive Democrats have called for an ideological re-orientation of the court, which they believe has tilted conservative in recent years.
Nevertheless, the push against LaSalle is unusual, leading supporters to mount a bid to save the nomination. And in a state where labor is a key constituency, unions could be pivotal to the outcome.
On Monday, the Public Employees Federation and Samuelson both urged fairness ahead of the hearing and give him the chance to respond to the public criticism that has been aired since Hochul nominated him in December.
"Once the hearing has been concluded, PEF urges that Judge LaSalle’s nomination be referred to the full Senate for a vote," PEF said in a statement. "The full Senate must then afford Judge LaSalle his due process, and perform its Constitutional duty to either confirm or reject his appointment as Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, based on the record of that hearing. We believe that Justice LaSalle deserves that opportunity and due process, and we believe the Governor deserves that courtesy."
PEF is the second-largest public workers union in the state. The union's public show of support came as Samuelson in a separate statement made a similar plea.
Labor has been split on the LaSalle nomination, however. District Council 9 Business Manager Joseph Azzopardi in a statement called LaSalle a "troubling" choice for the court.
“District Council 9 is troubled by the nomination of Justice Hector LaSalle for Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals," he said. "In many court decisions, Justice LaSalle has long put the interests of corporations ahead of hard-working New Yorkers. New York deserves a Chief Judge that will be supportive of workers’ rights.”
Other labor groups have also registered concerns, including the New York State AFL-CIO, who in a statement last month called the nomination troubling.
Hochul has publicly stood by LaSalle. On Saturday, the governor rallied for the nomination in the Bronx with allies like Rep. Adriano Espaillat, Rep. Nydia Velázquez and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.
“All we are asking for is justice and fairness for a man who deserves it,” Hochul said.