Acting New York Chief Judge Anthony Cannataro outlined the judiciary's plans for the new year, raising concerns with a workforce shortage, scheduling problems with the Family Court system and the need to address a backlog resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But as he concluded his remarks, Cannataro for the first time publicly addressed the fallout from the Democratic-led state Senate's rejection of Hector LaSalle's nomination to become the chief judge of New York. He also recongized LaSalle, currently a lower court justice, in the audience. 

Cannataro quoted both the late Chief Judge Judith Kaye and the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the need to have full "judicial independence" in the face of public criticism. 

"Since its founding, New York’s judiciary and court system has supported the essential pillars of our democracy by delivering fair and impartial justice without regard to political persuasion or the headwinds of public opinion," Cannator said. "That is not to say that the law does not advance, or that it does not progress with society or modern values. Surely, it does. But, we must be cognizant of our motivations and our role in the tricameral system, stick to reasoned determinations, and resist any temptation or call for outcome-oriented decisionmaking."

He added, "While our rulings may not always be popular at a given point in time, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg cautioned during her confirmation hearing in response to questioning from then-Senator Joe Biden, society must always be mindful of the proper role of the judiciary because democracy can be destroyed if judges dare to rule as 'Platonic guardians.'"

Cannataro has been serving as the chief judge in an acting capacity since the resignation last August of Chief Judge Janet DiFiore. 

The remarks are, in part, a response to calls from some Democratic lawmakers in the state Senate to re-orient the court along a more progressive path. Democrats and progressive advocates have been critical of recent rulings at the state's top court, including those that have centered around redistricting as well as criminal justice policy. 

"The Court of Appeals has been off for the last several years," said Deputy Senate Majority Leader Mike Gianaris earlier this year. "Janet DiFiore's tenure has been deemed by many to be the worst Court of Appeals administration in history."

LaSalle was nominated by Gov. Kathy Hochul in December to become the first Latino chief judge in New York. But advocates and labor unions had raised opposition to his confirmation over rulings they worried limited labor rights as well as criminal justice measures. 

LaSalle has defended his record and argued it was taken out of context. 

His nomination was supported by most of the Republicans in the state Senate and a GOP-backed lawsuit sought to force a full vote on the floor after LaSalle was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"The (Republican) conference has said pretty much one thing the whole time: We believe Judge LaSalle should get a floor vote," Ortt said earlier this month. 

A full floor vote in February sank LaSalle's nomination, an unprecedented development for a governor's chief judge nominee. 

Hochul is now back to the drawing board for a new chief judge selection. She said last week the process will not be intertwined with the ongoing budget negotiations over the next four weeks in Albany. 

“My personal feelings of disappointment do not play at all in how I go forth from here,” Hochul said. “The people of New York expect me to keep doing my job, which I will always do. Looking to find ways in our budget to increase affordability, to keep down the tax burden and for outstanding services. So I am focused on the budget right now.”