'Unacceptable': NY progressives vow to stop Dem. gov’s nomination of conservative judge to top court
Kathy Hochul on Feb. 8, 2022, in Albany, New York. - Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul/TNS

In a remarkable development, New York Democrats look likely to defeat Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul’s nomination of Hector LaSalle to be the state’s next chief judge, after progressives raised concern about his conservative judicial record and anti-abortion, anti-labor and anti-bail reform positions. “We have a situation here in New York where we have an opportunity to shift the highest court in a progressive direction, and the governor is completely fumbling that opportunity,” says Jabari Brisport, a Democratic Socialist state senator in Brooklyn who was one of the first to oppose LaSalle’s nomination.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to a remarkable development here in New York, where for the first time Democrats look likely to defeat the Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul’s nomination of the next chief judge to the state’s highest court. If confirmed, Hector LaSalle would be the first Latino chief judge of the Court of Appeals of New York. But his conservative judicial record has been opposed by progressives because of his anti-abortion, anti-labor and anti-bail reform positions. On Thursday, two more state senators came forward to oppose LaSalle’s nomination, bringing the total on record to 12, meaning he cannot be approved without Republican support, which makes it unlikely Democrats will bring his nomination to a vote. Those opposed now include the Senate deputy leader, Democrat Mike Gianaris.

On Wednesday, Democracy Now!'s Juan González and I spoke to one of the first state senators to oppose LaSalle's nomination, Jabari Brisport, New York state senator in Brooklyn who’s a Democratic Socialist. I asked him to describe how the governor chooses who to nominate for a chief justice, and why he opposes LaSalle.

SEN. JABARI BRISPORT: Well, good morning, Amy. Thank you for having me. It’s always a pleasure to be here.
The process in New York works like this. There is a Commission on Judicial Nominations. They take recommendations, applications over a several-week period, whenever they have an opening. And then they make a shortlist of seven that they give to the governor, who picks one to send to the Senate for confirmation. So, in the shortlist of seven, I would say there were three really outstanding candidates and three unacceptable ones. One, that being Hector LaSalle, who is unacceptable for the reasons you’ve listed previously, as making anti-labor decisions, anti-abortion decisions, and, honestly, branding as not even a conservative judge, but a conservative activist judge, going out of his way to make these decisions.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you be a little more specific on some of those decisions that he’s made that draw the ire and the concern of progressive groups?
SEN. JABARI BRISPORT: Yeah, sure. So, in his anti-abortion decision, there was a crisis pregnancy center in New York City that was misleading women seeking abortions and then went under investigation for illegally practicing medicine. And during their investigation, Hector LaSalle helped author a decision that shielded them from the full investigation by the attorney general. He basically made the case that they did not need to give or share what their marketing materials were, the things they were using to dupe women. He said that sharing those marketing materials would be a violation of their First Amendment rights somehow.
In terms of anti-labor decisions, there was a case where an employer, Cablevision, was suing union leaders. And even though that’s illegal in New York, Hector LaSalle went out of his way to say that even if the employer could not sue them as union leaders, he could sue them as individuals, basically exploding and rolling out the red carpet to a loophole to sue labor leaders. And that’s why five labor unions have also come out against Hector LaSalle, in addition to the 10 senators who have, as well.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, in terms of his confirmation process, Democrats have an overwhelming majority in the state Senate. What would it take to block his confirmation?
SEN. JABARI BRISPORT: He would need 32 yes votes to be confirmed by the state Senate. So, currently, there are 10 of the 42 Democratic senators who have come out opposing him. If one single more is opposing him, then he will not have enough votes from the Democratic conference to be confirmed.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what’s going to happen now? And talk about — I mean, you know, it was a very close race between Lee Zeldin and Governor Hochul. One of their main differences was reproductive rights, was the issue of abortion. And, you know, he was fiercely anti-abortion, and she said she was extremely pro-choice. Can you talk about what that means when a chief justice has the position that he has, what kind of cases he presides over? And did this nomination surprise you?
SEN. JABARI BRISPORT: This nomination was baffling to me, that the governor would attempt to cement a conservative majority on our highest court up until 2030 with a judge who has a record of making anti-abortion decisions. And again, he has gone out of his way. When you have someone willfully misinterpreting the Constitution to the point where they’re saying an anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center does not need to share what, you know, lying, deceitful marketing materials they’re using, that’s a problem for me. And we have a situation here in New York where we have an opportunity to shift the highest court in a progressive direction, and the governor is completely fumbling that opportunity.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about bail reform, state Senator Brisport?
SEN. JABARI BRISPORT: Yes. In 2019, New York state enacted changes to the bail laws that allowed for more — less restrictive measures to allow more people to wait at home for their trial rather than waiting at our detention facility in New York City called Rikers in pretrial detention. And it was a strong success in terms of more equality of people staying at home and waiting home for their fair trial. But due to conservative backlash and blaming everything under the sun on the laws, it suffered rollbacks immediately after in 2020 and again this year, in 2022. And conservatives continue to weaponize it and lie about the facts of bail reform in order to get rollbacks and force more people to be incarcerated.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what is your sense of why Governor Hochul took this decision, what kind of pressure she was under? After all, if she wanted to name the first Latino to chief justice, she could have named Jenny Rivera, who came out of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and is already on the court, but she chose instead this far more conservative pick.
SEN. JABARI BRISPORT: Yeah, I would say two things, Juan. One is just the outspoken identity politics angle of confirming the first Latino. In terms of Jenny Rivera, she is fantastic; however, she was not on the seven-person shortlist provided by the Commission on Judicial Nominations, so she was not an option for the governor to choose.
And, you know, the unspoken one, aside from the identity politics, is that the governor consistently shies away from making bold progressive decisions. That’s also why she did so poorly against an election-denying, Trump-supported fascist running against her for the governorship just a few weeks ago, is that she refused to make — to distinguish herself with a strong progressive tack.
AMY GOODMAN: Hector LaSalle was a prosecutor in Suffolk County, New York. You tweeted, “It’s indefensible to ask for Black votes and then work to incarcerate us. No on LaSalle,” you said. Explain.
SEN. JABARI BRISPORT: There are zero judges with a defense background on the court. And that was a problem when we voted to confirm Madeline Singas over a year ago. I voted no on her. I voted no again on Troutman earlier this year. And we have an extremely lopsided fact that the Court of Appeals is dominated by prosecutors and people that issue, you know, pro-landlord decisions and pro-business decisions. And nominating yet another prosecutor to our highest court would maintain that imbalance.

AMY GOODMAN: Jabari Brisport, New York state senator in Brooklyn, a Democratic Socialist. We spoke to him Wednesday, before more Democrats said they would vote against the confirmation of Hector LaSalle, reaching 12, meaning he can’t be approved without Republican support, which makes it unlikely Democrats will bring his nomination to a vote, challenging the choice of the Democratic governor of New York, Kathy Hochul.