The controversy over the nomination of Hector LaSalle to serve as chief justice of the New York Supreme Court — and his recent rejection by the state Senate Judiciary Committee — has led predictable pundits to see the dispute as left versus center, progressive versus moderate Yet another struggle between. But it is typical that conventional wisdom is wrong when establishment power structures fail to see that the ground beneath them is changing. The two sides here don’t fit into neat ideological boxes because they reflect a conflict between outsiders and insiders, between reformers and those in power.
LaSalle’s nomination was chosen by agencies backed by a powerful judicial fraternity and bipartisan machinery. They saw in this choice a guarantee that the status quo they had built and enjoyed would remain the same, and that the paradigm that had failed too many New Yorkers would not change.
Some of the arguments in defense of the nomination border on the absurd. We’re told not to judge a judge on his actual work output, showing his affinity for those in more powerful positions, or which parties he chooses to align with and support financially. We are told not to value the opinions of those who really care who are fighting on the front lines on behalf of organized labor, reproductive rights and civil liberties. The gaslighting of LaSalle supporters demonizes those who simply want to scrutinize this nomination, rather than advocating respect for a historic failure of duty that has given governors unfettered discretion to appoint whoever they want, Few checks and balances are imposed.
But the state Senate is committed to fixing past mistakes, not using them as a guide. The Senate Democratic Conference rose to prominence (and achieved a historic supermajority) as the antidote to old-style behind-the-scenes Albany politics, and our efforts to reshape the system were and are strongly opposed by both Republicans and establishment Democrats Opposition, including the so-called leaders of our party. Under the transformative direction of State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, we have vowed to govern according to our values and be accountable to the people — not the advisory class. We went back to basics and reconnected with the original mission of the Democratic Party: to fight for ordinary New Yorkers, hear the solutions they think they need to improve their lives, and give them a chance to fight for success.
So we’ve focused on addressing the issues that have led those already in charge to intentionally exclude people from government decision-making. We have implemented sweeping voting reforms to expand our democracy, such as early voting, automatic voter registration, and most recently, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act.
Our state Senate has worked hard to give outsiders the same seats that those who have been in these halls for decades have enjoyed. That’s how we do it as a conference. Our Senators have introduced effective, data-backed legislation that takes the weak spots of the problem and blows it away. In just a few short years, we have seized power and sought to change the system itself. We advanced some of the strongest climate legislation in the nation through the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act and successfully passed an Environmental Bond Act ballot proposal to help implement it. We raised taxes on the rich and reinvested in our future by funding public education and child care. And, more recently, we stood firm on reproductive rights, establishing New York as a destination state after the dreadful Dobbs decision.
That’s why it’s striking in the 2022 election post-mortem that while analysts dissect the New York Democratic defeat, few mention the clear winner: the New York state legislature. While those pursuing a stubborn policy of appeasement did not fare well at the ballot box, our senators and our parliamentary colleagues alike delivered bold visions for change and secured unprecedented back-to-back absolute majorities while other candidates faltered . Our winning strategy hinges on highly disruptive reforms committed by the party apparatus. Sticking to the old tactics that might have brought them to power decades ago would ultimately lead to failure.
The Senate’s rejection of LaSalle’s nomination wasn’t the first time we’ve disrupted the old ways of doing business, and it won’t be the last. We are advancing a new style of governance that our country has never seen before. We will continue to defend the best interests of those outside the political establishment, remain focused on the real impact of our work, and always legislate on behalf of the people before the powers that be. As demonstrated last week, those who fail to adapt to these changing realities will continue to be disconnected from the people of our country and ultimately faded into history.