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Why is there tension over Hochul’s latest chief judge pick?

New York’s political landscape may be in for a significant shift as tensions rise between the state Legislature and Governor Kathy Hochul over the selection process for the chief judge. Experts suggest that the conflict may be motivated by an underlying agenda to support the Democratic party in the state.

Recently, Governor Hochul nominated Associate Judge Rowan Wilson for the position of the first Black chief judge of the state’s highest court. The nomination comes after the rejection of her previous candidate, Judge Hector LaSalle, due to concerns over his past decisions. Some believe that the real motivation for this opposition was related to redistricting efforts in the state.

A hearing is scheduled for June 9 regarding the Democrats’ lawsuit challenging the state’s congressional lines. Republicans were able to gain congressional seats in New York last year, which helped them seize control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Democrats attribute this outcome to a contentious redistricting process, overseen by a court-appointed special master who they argue favored Republicans.

Last year, three judges on the state Court of Appeals, including Wilson, dissented against the decision to reject the Legislature-drawn election district lines due to unconstitutional gerrymandering. If Wilson is confirmed, he may preside over the current case as it advances to the state’s highest court.

Critics of the Democratic party argue that their dissatisfaction with the current districts is motivated by partisan interests, while others, like Michael Li from the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, assert that court-appointed special masters are typically fair in their decisions.

Finger Lakes Partners (Billboard)

Governor Hochul and state Attorney General Letitia James filed an amicus brief in support of overturning the existing maps, while the redistricting commission continues to work on new Assembly lines for the 2024 elections. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins deflected questions about the political motivations behind Governor Hochul’s nomination of Wilson, stating that such inquiries are best addressed during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearing, for which a date has yet to be set.

In addition, legislative leaders have expressed interest in amending the state Constitution to modify the redistricting process before 2030. However, no specific details or timeline have been provided, and the process would require legislation to pass in two consecutive legislative sessions.