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Senate votes against Gov. Hochul's nomination of Hector LaSalle for New York's top judge

Gov. Hochul suffers defeat as Hector LaSalle is voted down
Gov. Hochul suffers defeat as Hector LaSalle is voted down 03:02

NEW YORK -- Gov. Kathy Hochul suffered a major defeat on Wednesday as progressive lawmakers voted down her pick to head the state's highest court.

That had never happened before and signals a big problem for the governor and her agenda.

Many in New York political circles see Hochul's decision to nominate Hector LaSalle as an unforced error, picking a former prosecutor regarded as too conservative at a time when progressives want the court to serve as the liberal counterpoint to the U.S. Supreme Court.

After a five-hour hearing, the Senate Judiciary Committee handed the governor an embarrassing defeat, refusing to allow the full Senate to vote on her nomination of LaSalle to head the state Court of Appeals.

Left-of-center progressives went to great lengths to paint LaSalle, a Democrat, as way too conservative, even lambasting him for once accepting the cross endorsement of the Conservative Party, a time-honored tradition when many jurists run with multi-party lines.

"The Conservative Party also supports radical right Supreme Court rulings against women, immigrants, workers, the environment, so I'm extremely shocked and disappointed that you would have at any point during you career thrown your lot in with them," Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal said.

"I ran as a judge. I ran as a judge both times. Just as I took the Working Families line when it was available in 2008. I run as a judge and I make decisions based on the law and I apply the law the same to everybody," LaSalle said.

READ MOREGov. Kathy Hochul pledges to stand by chief judge nominee Hector LaSalle as he faces criticism

In what appeared to be a carefully orchestrated effort, various senators picked apart a handful of decisions related to unions, voting rights and abortion access. And in an unusual development, it was mostly left to the six Republican senators on the 19-member panel to mount the strongest defense of LaSalle, who had hoped to become the first Latino to steer the state's highest court.

"You know in reading your decisions and especially in listening to your opening statement, I thought for a moment I was in the wrong room. You do not come across as a right wing conservative nut," Staten Island Sen. Andrew Lanza said.

In his open statement, LaSalle talked of growing up in a union family that came to New York from Puerto Rico as poor immigrants who worked hard to achieve the American dream.

"Let me tell you a little about my beliefs and what my vision is for the court. I believe passionately that our justice system should be the great equalizer. Its doors should be wide open, with equal access to justice for people from of all walks of life," LaSalle said.

Bronx Democrat Luis Sepulveda waved flags from Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries as he defended LaSalle.

"There has been a character assassination, misinformation about your cases," Sepulveda said.

Hochul is digging in her heels and is preparing for a possible court battle. In a statement, she said she believes the constitution requires action by the full 63-member Senate. She called the hearing unfair because several senators announced their votes days ago.

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