By Daniel Wiessner
Albany, N.Y., Feb 5 (Reuters) - The New York State Senate
Judiciary Committee on Tuesday forwarded the nomination of CUNY
Law Professor Jenny Rivera to sit on the Court of Appeals to the
full Senate, but the panel's Republican members declined to
endorse her candidacy.
The committee voted 14-8 to send Rivera's nomination to the
Senate, which is expected to vote on her appointment next week.
Eleven Democrats voted in favor of her nomination and three
Republicans voted "without recommendation," meaning they did not
support Rivera's elevation to the court but approved of the full
Senate vote. The eight votes cast against her were from
Rivera, 52, was nominated last month by Governor Andrew
Cuomo to fill a vacancy created by the retirement of Judge
Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, who stepped down at the end of 2012.
Ciparick was the court's first Hispanic judge; if confirmed,
Rivera would be the second.
The vote came a day after the committee grilled Rivera
during a four-hour hearing, with a number of Republican
lawmakers expressing concern about her lack of judicial
experience and her academic writings, which they characterized
as vague and narrowly focused on social issues.
The eight Republicans who voted against Rivera said during
Tuesday's vote that she had failed to demonstrate a deep
understanding of legal issues not related to social justice, and
that she lacked the courtroom experience of a seasoned trial
A Court of Appeals appointment "is usually the culmination
of a career of excellence in the law, not a career of excellence
on one specific point of the law," said Senator John
DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican.
But many Democrats on the panel said on Tuesday that her
unique experiences in public service and academia would add a
valuable viewpoint to the state's top court.
"I've seen judges with 25 years of trial experience who have
embarrassed me when they've been appointed to the Appellate
Division courts," Senator Neil Breslin, a Democrat from Albany,
Rivera conceded on Monday that she had handled only a
handful of cases in her career that went to verdict or to an
But she defended her credentials, repeatedly distinguishing
between the role of an academic and that of a judge, and
claiming she could remain neutral if elevated to the bench. She
said that her diverse experiences had exposed her to people from
"all different backgrounds and perspectives."
The governor chose Rivera from a list created by the state
Commission on Judicial Nomination, which included three
Appellate Division justices and two veteran attorneys in private
Senator John Bonacic, a Republican and the chair of the
committee, said during the vote that governors "tend to be ...
social engineers of the court" because they often make
appointments based on gender or ethnicity.
"I don't necessarily adhere to those philosophies," he said.
"If seven women are the most qualified and they all happen to be
Hispanic ... put them all on."
Moving forward, Bonacic said, Cuomo should consult with
lawmakers before making judicial nominations.
Cuomo's office did not return a request for comment on
Since the current gubernatorial appointment system was
implemented in 1977, no Court of Appeals nominee has been
rejected by the Senate.
Rivera has served on the faculty of CUNY Law since 1997,
except for a 17-month stint as a deputy attorney general for
civil rights under Cuomo, who was then the attorney general.
At CUNY, Rivera teaches administrative law, civil procedure,
wills and trusts and lawyering. She also founded the school's
Center on Latino and Latina Rights and Equality.
Before becoming a professor, she worked as an administrative
law judge with the state Division of Human Rights and was a
member of the New York City Commission on Human Rights. From
1993 to 1994, she clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sonia
Sotomayor when she was a judge in the Southern District.
In the 1980s, Rivera did stints at the Legal Aid Society and
the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.
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