Fresh off voting down on Gov. Kathy Hochul’s centrist nominee to lead the state’s highest court, the head of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee declared Wednesday that progressive Democrats would not allow anyone who ever appeared on the Conservative Party line to get a judgeship.
“That’s a decision to take a line from a party that is opposed to reproductive health, that is opposed to workers rights, that is opposed to LGBTQ marriage equality,” Judiciary Committee Chair Brad Hoylman-Sigal (D-Manhattan) told WNYC.
“I hope we have made it clear moving forward that we will not accept the nomination of judges who run on that line.”
While Hoylman-Sigal later tried to walk back the comment, saying he had misspoken, the notion that candidates could be barred from high-level judgeships for appearing on the Conservative Party ballot was ripped as “outrageous” by some jurists.
“It’s a problematic position of deciding who becomes a judge in New York State based on an ideological litmus test that is incredibly dangerous,” a prominent sitting judge told The Post. “We are going down a road that is really challenging our democratic norms.”
The comment from Hoylman-Sigal came one day after the committee voted against moving the nomination of Hector LaSalle to the full Senate floor.
LaSalle – who left-leaning Democrats accused of making anti-union and anti-abortion decisions – had previously run for judicial posts on the Democratic, Republican and Conservative lines as chief judge of the Court of Appeals.
Many judges in places like Brooklyn and Long Island run as fusion candidates to demonstrate their cross-party appeal, with party leaders having a big role in deciding which candidates get to run as the only candidates on the ballot.
“I didn’t want to be viewed as a partisan. So to me, it was the ultimate honor that different parties left, right, in between had confidence in my neutrality, even-handedness and balance to to give me their nominations,” former liberal Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman told The Post about running for a Westchester judicial post years ago with the support of the Conservative Party.
Hoylman-Sigal told The Post later on Thursday that he personally felt it was important to grill future judicial nominees over past support from the powerful third party, including political donations, without implementing any blanket rule.
State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) did not immediately provide comment Thursday.
But eliminating many sitting judges from the pool of future judicial nominees could help progressives by giving defense attorneys and academics a better chance of reaching a top court that has historically been dominated by former prosecutors.
This includes several chief judge candidates that were previously screened by a state commission alongside LaSalle, who was the only one among seven potential nominees who had previously run for a judicial post under multiple ballot lines.
“While I understand that it’s common for elected judges to run on multiple ballot lines including Conservative Party … There are plenty of qualified judges who have either never been elected (they were appointed) or were not elected on a Conservative or Republican party line,” state Sen. Julia Salazar (D-Brooklyn) said in a text.
But the outsized influence at the local level could hurt Democrats in places like Brooklyn if the Conservative Party ends up retaliating against any future moves to block judicial candidates purely on their association with the group.
“Senator Hoylman-Sigal wants prospective judges pre-judged in this state to meet his own ideological bent. Maybe it’s time that the Conservative Party reconsider its cross endorsements of Democrats,” Conservative Party Chair Gerard Kassar thundered Thursday.
“Isn’t justice supposed to be blind?” he added.