By Daniel Wiessner
ALBANY, N.Y., Feb 11 (Reuters) - Law professor Jenny Rivera
has become the second Hispanic judge to be confirmed by the New
York state Senate to a seat on the Court of Appeals, in spite of
concerns from some Republican lawmakers about her objectivity
and qualifications for the bench.
Rivera, 52, was nominated last month by Governor Andrew
Cuomo to fill the seat vacated by Judge Carmen Beauchamp
Ciparick, who retired at the end of 2012. Ciparick was the first
Hispanic judge in the court's history.
Rivera has served on the faculty of CUNY Law since 1997.
Before that she worked for legal aid providers and as an
administrative law judge. She also did a brief stint as a deputy
attorney general for civil rights under Cuomo.
She joins a small minority of judges who had no experience
on the bench before ascending to the state's top court,
including former chief judge Judith Kaye and sitting Judge
At a press conference on Monday, Rivera responded to
criticism from some Republican lawmakers who said her academic
writings, which focused largely on social justice issues,
suggested that she could not remain objective in some instances.
"My approach to judicial decision making is to apply the law
in that case," she said.
Cuomo on Monday praised Rivera for her long career in public
service, saying that the only thing missing from her resume was
a high-paying job at a private law firm and that her perspective
was needed on the court.
"She didn't represent big corporations, she wasn't
representing wealthy people on how to arrange their trusts and
estates," he said. "She is the quintessential public service
A Court of Appeals spokesman said Rivera would be sworn in
by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman on Monday evening and would
begin hearing arguments on Tuesday.
The Senate confirmed Rivera by a voice vote, meaning there
was no exact tally of how the 63 senators voted. Eleven of the
14 senators who explained their votes supported Rivera.
"She is a fine legal mind and I'm completely confident that
New Yorkers that come before her bench will know that justice is
being served," Sen. Jeff Klein, a Democrat from the Bronx, said
during the vote.
But Senator John Bonacic, the chair of the committee, said
he was concerned that Rivera could be "prone to judicial
He said, "I also have concerns that it would be very
difficult for her to be objective, given her passion in a
limited area of the law."
The Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee last week
forwarded Rivera's nomination to the Senate "without
recommendation," meaning a majority of committee members did not
approve of her elevation to the state's top court.
During the Judiciary Committee hearing last week, Republican
senators said they were troubled over her lack of judicial
experience and her academic writings on discrimination, women's
rights, domestic violence and other social issues.
Rivera, in turn, distinguished between the work of
academics, whom she said are expected to challenge current
understanding of the law, and the work of judges. She said she
could remain neutral if confirmed to the court.
A graduate of Princeton University and NYU Law School,
Rivera did stints at the Legal Aid Society and Puerto Rican
Legal Defense and Education Fund before becoming an
administrative law judge with the New York State Division of
In 1993 and 1994, Rivera clerked for Supreme Court Justice
Sonia Sotomayor, who was then a Southern District judge. In
1997, she joined the faculty of CUNY Law School, where she
teaches civil procedure, administrative law, lawyering, and
wills and trusts. Rivera took a brief leave of absence in 2007
and 2008, when she served as a special deputy attorney general
for civil rights under Cuomo, who was then the attorney general.
Upon returning to CUNY, Rivera founded the school's Center on
Latino and Latina Rights and Equality.
She also has served as a member of the New York City
Commission on Human Rights and the Second Department Judicial
Screening Committee .
Rivera will serve a 14-year term and would then be eligible
for reappointment to the court.
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