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Gov. Kathy Hochul Picks Conservative Anti-Abortion Judge for New York's Highest Court

The New York governor has previously said she will do everything in her power to protect abortion rights in her state.

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Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket (Getty Images)

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Thursday nominated Hector D. LaSalle—a conservative jurist who has sided with crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs)—to lead the state’s highest court for a 14-year term. LaSalle’s history as a right-wing judicial activist is in direct contrast with the governor’s previous pledges to support abortion rights in New York.

LaSalle was one of seven candidates submitted to the governor by the State Commission on Judicial Nomination, but in a Monday letter, nearly 50 law professors urged Hochul to not pick LaSalle to be chief judge of the New York State Court of Appeals because of his “cavalier attitude towards reproductive rights, hostility to organized labor, and a worrying insensitivity to due process.”

While each of those is troubling, let’s focus on his “cavalier attitude” toward abortion rights. The New York law professors’ open letter explains the situation thusly:

In 2010, the New York City Council held hearings into CPCs and determined that one of them, “Expectant Mother Care,” was practicing medicine without a license. On the basis of that finding, the New York Attorney General served it with a subpoena to learn more about its operations.

Justice LaSalle intervened to shield the CPC from the application of health care licensing laws. The court held across the board that the Attorney General could not see the documents before the court itself reviewed them. But for some documents it went even further. The opinion stated that the Attorney General could not get the “advertisements and promotional literature, brochures and pamphlets that the CPC provided or disseminated to the public in New York State,” or the list of the CPC’s funders, even after court review. The opinion Justice LaSalle joined concluded that that information was not important or relevant enough to the Attorney General’s investigation to require disclosure, even to the court.

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They called his court’s finding “shocking” and said it “suggests to us that Justice LaSalle does not understand the severity of the threat to women’s rights posed by anti-abortion activists and their funders.”

While New York laws currently uphold abortion rights, even the most pro-choice of laws can be undone by an activist judiciary. “It is imperative that New York’s judges appreciate the importance of the right to choose and the many different fraudulent subterfuges anti-choice activists deploy,” the letter continued.

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Nominating someone who’s ruled in favor of anti-abortion plaintiffs flies in the face of Hochul’s previous actions and statements. In June, she signed a law that would study the impacts of CPCs for pregnant New Yorkers. That same month, after Roe v. Wade was overturned, Hochul said the state would be a “safe harbor” for abortion patients and created a $35 million fund for abortion clinics to help them handle the coming tide of out-of-state patients, like the Louisiana woman who was forced to travel 1,400 miles to New York for an abortion. Hochul called the overturning of Roe “repulsive at every level.”

This position would also have LaSalle overseeing the entire state judiciary, including “more than 3,000 state and local judges, 15,000 staff members, 300 sites and millions of cases,” according to the New York Times.

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Peter Martin, director of Judicial Accountability at the Center for Community Alternatives, decried LaSalle’s nomination. “Justice LaSalle’s deeply conservative judicial record includes decisions that are anti-abortion, anti-union, and anti-due process,” Martin said in a written statement to the Associated Press. “His decisions make clear that his judicial philosophy is wrong for New York.”

New York state Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said LaSalle will get a “fair and thorough hearing.” “I look forward to meeting Justice LaSalle and thoroughly reviewing his qualifications and record,” Hoylman told the Times.

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The state Senate has 30 days to vote on LaSalle’s nomination. The legislative session starts on January 4.