Politics ‘shredded’ constitution, Borrello says

FILE - New York Gov. Kathy Hochul's Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals nominee, Hector D. LaSalle, gives testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jan. 18, 2023, in Albany, N.Y. New York's Senate rejected LaSalle, Hochul’s nominee to be the state's chief judge, on Wednesday, Feb. 15, an extraordinary defeat for the state's top Democrat delivered by legislative leaders in her own party. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)

Sen. George Borrello accused Senate Democrats of “shredding” the state constitution by denying a vote on Judge Hector LaSalle to seve as the next head of the state Court of Appeals.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted not to forward LaSalle’s Court of Appeals nomination to the full Senate in January after questioning him for more than four hours. Gov. Kathy Hochul nominated LaSalle just before Christmas, hoping he would become the first Latino to lead the seven-member high court and oversee New York’s judicial system. LaSalle ran into opposition after a vocal coalition of opponents claimed LaSalle’s judicial record was too conservative.

Last week, Republican Senator Anthony Palumbo, the ranking minority member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, filed a lawsuit seeking to force a full Senate vote on LaSalle’s nomination. After fighting the lawsuit in court and with oral arguments in the case scheduled for today, Senate Democrats reversed course Wednesday, holding an unexpected vote on LaSalle’s nomination and voting it down, 39-20, in a largely party line vote with two of LaSalle’s biggest supporters — Sen. Luis Sepulveda and Sen. Kevin Thomas — not in the chamber to vote or speak on LaSalle’s behalf.

“So it’s really not about making history for people of color or women, it’s about following what your special interests are telling you to do because you have a lot of people here who would love to see this very qualified jurist sit in this position and properly interpret the constitution,” Borrello said. “Instead we’re saying we’re all about making history when it’s people who aren’t going to aggravate our special interests or that the socialists can support and the progressives can support. Then its OK to make history in that very narrow lane. So I’m proud today that I get to vote, that we as a Republican conference are the ones making history today and bringing this to the floor vote. We brought this. And whether or not the judge makes it, that’s the history that’s being made today. And the constitution — and we hear a lot about this in this chamber — how we’re protecting democracy, we’re protecting the constitution, you shredded the constitution in this process. Shredded it. I won’t be lectured to either. You shredded the constitution, so today we brought it back.”

Several Democrats chastised Republicans for supporting LaSalle, including Sen. Zellnor Myrie, D-Kings, who ripped Republicans for their lack of support of LaSalle’s candidacy during committee hearings. He also criticized Republicans for wasting time that Myrie felt should have been spent on other legislation.

“I’ve taken two oaths to uphold the constitution in my life — one as an attorney, the second as a senator, so I will not be lectured by any colleague or anyone else about what that oath means,” Myrie said. “Big constitutional scholars we have today. But when it comes to Black and Brown folks in our criminal legal system — nothing about the constitution. No due process. Guilty before trial. Everybody looped into the same circle. Nothing about upholding our constitution then. So spare me the lecture about upholding this constitution. Because that is what I do every single day. As it relates to this nomination we’ve also heard laudatory comments for this nominee, but every member of the judiciary committee in the minority voted aye without recommendation. If you believed in this nominee so strongly why not vote yes? Again we will not be lectured on the constitution.”

Palumbo on the floor Wednesday accused Democrats of gamesmanship in trying to render the court case moot. He said he would press on with the lawsuit in hopes to set a precedent that nominations must be decided by the full Senate rather than by a committee. LaSalle currently serves as a presiding justice of the Second Department, where he leads the largest state appellate court in the nation with a budget of about $69 million, according to the Associated Press. He was appointed to that position in 2021 by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Progressive activists, labor leaders and liberal senators claimed his record as an appellate judge is too conservative for such an influential position, focusing on a judicial record they said showed LaSalle favored prosecutors’ positions over civil rights

“In this chamber we’re very proud and often talk about making history, about how we’ve made history in so many ways. We hear it a lot from my colleagues on this side of the aisle,” Borrello said as he gestured toward Democrats on the Senate floor, “‘we have made history today because so and so is in this position. Well today we’re making history by not making history. The firsts Latino to be nominated to the highest court. I am proud to represent a very large Latino population for Upstate New York, in fact of largely Puerto Rican descent. They actually have talked to me about Judge LaSalle and they would like to know why this historic nomination was going to go down in flames and I wasn’t even going to get a vote as their representative. Until today I wasn’t going to get a vote to show them they have a representative in the most important, highest court nomination in New York state. Then all of a sudden the lawsuit happened and now magically we’re going to follow the constitution now.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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