ALBANY (CN) – New York lawmakers voted Tuesday to keep Acting Attorney General Barbara Underwood in office through the end of the year.
Formalizing Underwood as the successor to disgraced Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the vote came at a joint meeting this afternoon of the state Senate and Assembly.
A week earlier, Underwood received near-unanimous praise from a bipartisan, bicameral committee of the Legislature that had been interviewing 13 applicants over two days.
Having served since 2007 as state solicitor general, Underwood took over the attorney general post on May 8 after four former partners of Schneiderman lobbed domestic-abuse allegations against him.
“It is a tremendous honor and I pledge to serve the people of the great state of New York with honesty, integrity, and all of the skills I have acquired during decades of public service,” Underwood said in statement.
“At this moment, when so many New Yorkers are fearful of the effects of overreaching and discriminatory federal policies on them and their families, the role of the New York Attorney General’s Office is more important than ever,” she added.
Speaker of the Assembly Carl Heastie made the announcement Tuesday that Underwood had received the sufficient number of votes. “The cream rises to the top,” Heastie said.
Schneiderman’s resignation came with over six months left in his four-year term. Senator John Flanagan noted in an opening statement today that the Legislature was looking for a nominee who was not going to be running the office in the November general election.
“She’s competent, she’s capable, she’s got a stellar record,” Flanagan said.
Underwood was nominated by Assemblyman Joe Lentol and seconded by Senator Kenneth LaValle, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Senator Brian Kavanagh and Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon.
Lentol received strong applause after his nomination of Underwood. “When we approve her today, she will be the first woman New York attorney general,” Lentol declared.
Senator Joseph Griffo and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis both spoke up to urge the Legislature to look at changing the constitution when it comes to vacancies so that the vote goes straight to the public in a special election or general election that year.
Assemblyman Charles Barron from Brooklyn, a frequent critic of Schneiderman and New York Governor Cuomo, briefly spoke up to criticize the vote as a backroom deal with a democratic facade. “The process is flawed,” he said. “I vote no and I think we should reconsider.”
Underwood’s term in the office of the Attorney General will expire on Dec. 31, 2018.
Early in her career, Underwood was a law clerk to Chief Judge David L. Bazelon of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and to Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court.
During Underwood’s tenure as chief assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of New York in the 1990s, she worked alongside future Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson and Loretta Lynch, who would later be appointed U.S. attorney general by President Barrack Obama. Underwood also served as chief of appeals in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office in the early 1980s, during which she urged the state Court of Appeals to strike down the exemption in the rape laws for rape committed on a spouse.
In her address to the legislative committee last week, Underwood proclaimed that she would follow through on predecessor’s challenges to the Trump administration. “We have filed about a dozen briefs, leading the efforts of a group of states to challenge the president’s travel ban, which was partly halted by the courts,” Underwood said. “And earlier this year, our office won a preliminary injunction halting the Trump Administration’s termination of DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – on a nationwide basis.”
Underwood also sketched out the social issues that the Attorney General’s Office has championed in recent years. “We have supported public-sector unions against an increasing legal threat to their financial wellbeing,” she said. “We have fought to protect a woman’s right to choose, challenged rollbacks of environmental regulations, and sought to safeguard the rights of transgender students.
“In short, we have resisted many efforts by the current federal administration that we believe violate the law and will harm New Yorkers,” Underwood concluded.
“In many ways, I feel that this work is the most important work I have ever done, and I assure you the work will continue uninterrupted if the Legislature allows me to serve out the current term,” she added.
As acting attorney general, Underwood affirmed that the office was continuing its civil rights lawsuit against disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and The Weinstein Company.