Gov. Hochul faces new nomination after historic rejection

March 29, 2023 Robert Abruzzese
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STATEWIDE — Gov. Kathy Hochul is facing a crucial decision after receiving a new list of seven candidates to nominate the next chief judge of the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. Senate Democrats rejected her first choice, Justice Hector LaSalle, in a historic move last month.

This unprecedented rejection resulted from concerns over LaSalle’s anti-union decisions, leading to a Republican lawsuit over the process. His nomination also faced opposition from progressive lawmakers, labor unions and other groups who believed he was too conservative to lead the state’s court system.

Justice Anthony Cannataro, the acting chief judge of the Court of Appeals.

The seven candidates presented to Governor Hochul include Justice Anthony Cannataro, the acting chief judge of the Court of Appeals; Justice Shirley Troutman and Justice Rowan Wilson, both currently serving on the state’s highest bench; appellate court judges Hon. Elizabeth Garry, the presiding justice of the 3rd Appellate Division, and Hon. Gerald Whalen, the presiding justice of the 4th Appellate Division; Caitlin Halligan, a lawyer and former general counsel for the Manhattan district attorney’s office who also served as solicitor general for the state from 2001 to 2007; and Corey Stoughton, an attorney with The Legal Aid Society.

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Gov. Hochul has 30 days to choose a nominee from this short list following its submission, which was released by the Commission on Judicial Nominations. The Democratic-led state Senate’s decision to reject LaSalle has not happened in the state before.

During the search for a new chief judge, some lawmakers, including State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, the Judiciary Committee chairman, called on the commission to consider candidates with diverse backgrounds, such as civil rights attorneys, public defenders, and tenant advocates. This request came in the wake of a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court overturning abortion protections and criticism that New York’s highest court was being pushed to the right by a quartet of conservative-leaning judges led by former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore.

In the aftermath of LaSalle’s formal rejection, Gov Hochul has stated that she will use the same criteria she applied to LaSalle when selecting a new nominee. She emphasized her commitment to selecting the best individual to lead the court.

“I will always do what I did before and do in the future, and that is select the person I think is the best individual and the best person to lead an extraordinary court,” Hochul said.

As the state budget deadline of April 1 approaches, the governor and Legislature may be forced to negotiate the spending plan and address numerous policy issues while simultaneously working through the process of confirming the state’s next top judge.

Notable names that were left off this round’s list include Hon. Edwina Richardson-Mendelson, the Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives who was included on the last list, and whom Judge LaSalle picked as his No. 2, and Hon. Jenny Rivera, who was left off the first list due to her vaccine status, but was eligible this time around.

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