Gov. Kathy Hochul came into office vowing to treat the state Legislature as an equal branch of government, curbing the decade Andrew Cuomo was in the office where he amassed a large degree of power while in an inherently powerful office and often flexed his political muscle over the legislative body.
“For too long, Albany’s executive and legislative branches were fighting each other in the arena. No more. That ends now,” Hochul said in her 2022 State of the State address. “What I am proposing is a whole new era for New York. The days of governors disregarding the rightful role of this Legislature are over.”
The events of this week are the latest indication that “whole new era” is more than just symbolic language.
On Wednesday, Hochul’s nominee to lead New York’s highest court was voted down by the state Senate Judiciary Committee. Only two members of her own party on the 19-member committee voted to advance Justice Hector LaSalle to a full floor vote to be the next chief judge of the state Court of Appeals.
It marked the first time a judicial candidate nominated by a governor was rejected by lawmakers since the process was changed more than 40 years ago. The last nominee for chief judge — Janet DiFiore — was confirmed unanimously in 2016. Senate Judiciary Chairman Brad Hoylman-Sigal, who voted against LaSalle, told Capital Tonight on Thursday that he thinks his “yes” vote for DiFiore six years ago was a mistake in hindsight.
On Friday, state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins released a statement that did not mention Hochul or her allies by name, but said in part, “this ongoing attack makes it clear that there are those that don’t accept the Senate’s role in this process, and will not be happy unless we simply act as a rubber stamp. This is a dangerous infringement of the separation of powers.”
It’s a remarkable pushback from a Legislature that hasn’t overridden a governor’s veto since 2006 and could often be strong-armed by the Cuomo administration.
After voting to scale back Cuomo’s broad pandemic powers and tracking toward impeaching and potentially removing him, the Legislature is still making moves to vocalize their power in Albany during Hochul’s tenure. Democratic supermajorities in both the Assembly and Senate add to that dynamic.
Many of its members have demanded Hochul replace state Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs, a steadfast ally for her, after the party’s performance in the state relative to much of the rest of the nation in the 2022 midterm elections. The governor has also received criticism from several directions on the continuing issue of bail reform amid more potential changes to the controversial law.
When it comes to the battle over LaSalle’s nomination, Hochul — perhaps empowered herself after winning a full four-year term in her own right last fall — said she is considering all options and has not ruled out a lawsuit against the Senate aimed to force a full floor vote on LaSalle.
Hochul also appeared to blame the Judiciary Committee membership, not her choice of the nominee or the process leading to his selection, for LaSalle’s defeat.
“I think if you look at the original composition of that committee before it was changed, there were enough votes to go forward. You have to question why it was unexpectedly four more votes added to that committee, two of which said they were firmly against,” Hochul said Thursday.
Where Hochul goes from here is uncertain. Even if there was a floor vote on LaSalle, the number of Democratic senators who have publicly said they would vote against him would be enough to sink his candidacy as long as there were no Republican votes.
Ahead of this battle is the rest of Hochul’s agenda this legislative session, as well as state budget negotiations where the governor and legislative leaders are able to play their most powerful hands.