Shame on State Senator Shelley Mayer, who represents Rye in Albany, for her role in quashing the appointment of Justice Hector LaSalle to become chief judge of the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court. In case you missed it, one of the first major actions taken by Governor Hochul upon her narrow election in November was to nominate Justice LaSalle.
Justice LaSalle, a former prosecutor and experienced administrative judge was rated highly qualified by various bar associations. His judicial philosophy was perceived as moderate, as one who adheres to precedent and strictly construes statutes as compared to a few of the other candidates selected by a screening panel that Governor Hochul had to choose from.
Prior to holding a hearing before the State Senate Judiciary Committee, the Democratic leader of the State Senate expanded the Judiciary Committee from 15 to 19 members which enabled the progressive Democrats to control the majority of the votes of the committee. One of those newly named to the committee was Senator Mayer, who, together with the other progressive committee members, publicly announced her opposition to confirming Justice LaSalle prior to the committee holding a hearing. Even though the result appeared preordained, on Wednesday, January 18th, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Justice LaSalle’s nomination.
Having myself recently retired as a government attorney having served over 30 years as a prosecutor and then a law clerk in the Manhattan and Bronx criminal and family courts, I had the luxury of watching the entirety of the five hour hearing. What I observed was the testimony of a savvy New Yorker of Hispanic descent, who by virtue of his compelling life story, professional experience, obvious intellect, and temperament, clearly demonstrated the qualities and credentials to ably lead the 7 member court as well as the administrative experience to lead the judicial branch whose budget exceeds $3 billion.
The progressives’ based their opposition to Justice LaSalle mainly upon three short memorandum decisions that Justice LaSalle signed as a member of an appellate panel of five judges, but did not himself author. These three decisions purported to show that he was anti-union, anti-choice, and biased against criminal defendants. In his opening statement and in answers to questions regarding these three decisions, Justice LaSalle disabused any fair minded listener of these preconceptions and explicitly stated that he supported the rights of workers, the right of women to choose, and the rights of criminal defendants to a fair trial and further made a compelling case that the characterization of the three decisions was a gross distortion of their actual holdings.
Nonetheless, at the conclusion of the hearing, the committee voted 10-9 to derail the nomination and not to pass it on for a vote of the entire Senate. Given the final tally, any one of the no votes, including that of Senator Mayer, proved decisive. From Senator Mayer’s press release issued after her no vote, it is clear that her opposition was based on Justice LaSalle’s judicial philosophy not being to her liking as she preferred an activist progressive judge who broadly interprets state statutes and the state constitution.
Clearly, Justice LaSalle was not Senator’s Mayer’s ideal choice. However, it was not her choice to make. In fact, as chief executive, it was Governor Hochul’s choice to make and it was Senator Mayer’s duty to ensure only that the chosen candidate was both highly qualified and not outside the judicial mainstream. Governor Hochul, who narrowly won election, listened to the electorate, and selected such a candidate. Senator Mayer overstepped her constitutional role, and by using scorched earth political tactics handed her fellow Democrat an unprecedented defeat, thereby depriving New Yorkers of a stellar judge to lead its courts.
Hopefully, Governor Hochul will stand firm and continue the fight to have the entire New York State Senate vote on Justice LaSalle’s appointment or select another individual with a similar background and judicial philosophy. To do otherwise, would be to further embolden the progressive/liberal wing of the Democratic party, which will be a recipe for failure at the ballot box for Democratic candidates in future elections for statewide and national office.
Mitchell Krapes, Rye, New York