Justice Hector LaSalle will receive a "fair" and "thorough" hearing by the state Senate Judiciary Committee, the top Democrat on the panel told reporters on Tuesday a day before the high-stakes meeting takes place in Albany.
LaSalle, Gov. Kathy Hochul's nominee to lead the state Court of Appeals, is facing an unprecedented level of opposition in the state Senate, making for the possibility of the first chief judge nominee to be voted down by lawmakers since the process has been in place for more than 40 years.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Hoylman-Sigal acknowledged LaSalle, who would be the first Latino chief judge of New York, faces an unlikely path forward.
"I think it's a very steep hill for this nominee," Hoylman-Sigal said. "I don't want to pre-determine the outcome. I think we need to make sure this nominee and the governor believe this is a fair hearing and that's what we're committed to delivering tomorrow."
LaSalle has come under criticism for backing rulings that progressive critics have argued undermine labor rights in New York and has been scrutinized for his background as a prosecutor in Suffolk County.
At least a dozen Democrats in the state Senate have signaled they will vote against his confirmation. LaSalle's backers have questioned whether the Judiciary Committee could signularly end the nomination if it fails to advance him to the full chamber for a vote.
Hochul has not ruled out the possibility of suing the state Senate to gain a floor vote. Hoylman contends the committee vote will matter, however.
"It's our position and it's my understand that the committee vote is sufficient to determine whether advice and consent was given to this nominee," he said. "The Senate knows our rules best and perhaps there's some misunderstanding from the other branches of government."
Hochul has publicly stood by her nominee and supporters of LaSalle's bid have argued opponents are taking rulings out of context.
Progressive advocates on issues like criminal justice, however, have been signaling for years an effort to re-orient the state Court of Appeals, New York's top court after rulings they have deemed to be too conservative.
Hoylman-Sigal, who has taken no public position yet on the nominee, called the scrutiny a positive development in the otherwise ho-hum world of state judicial nominations. Further motivation has been spurred by a U.S. Supreme Court at the federal level that has three appointees of former President Donald Trump.
"I welcome the input that New Yorkers and advocates and elected officials from every branch of government have afforded this process because the stakes could not be higher now in our state and nation as the Trump-appointed judges leave their inprint on our laws, including our state laws," Hoylman-Sigal said. "There's no more important nominee in my time in the Senate than this chief judge. It will set the course for the next decade or longer."