The New York Senate on Monday confirmed a New York City law professor to the state's highest court after some Republican senators faulted Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's choice for limited experience as a trial lawyer and judge.
Jenny Rivera, a City University of New York professor who worked for Cuomo when he was state attorney general, replaces Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, who retired from the seven-member Court of Appeals at the end of last year. Ciparick was the court's first Hispanic and second female judge when she joined it in 1994.
Rivera, 52, is a Bronx resident and New York native who is also Hispanic. She has worked at the Legal Aid Society of New York City, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and was clerk to then-U.S. District Judge Sonia Sotomayor in Manhattan.
The Senate confirmed Rivera's nomination by voice vote.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Bonacic, a Middletown Republican, said the highest court's judgeships are among the most important positions in state government, handing down decisions that affect millions of people. He repeated criticism he'd raised in the committee that her experience is narrow and more administrative than the practice of law in the trenches. "I have concerns, were she to be confirmed, that she would be prone toward judicial activism, rather than apply the statute before her," he said.
At CUNY, Rivera has been director of the law school's Center on Latino and Latina Rights and Equality. A graduate of Princeton University and New York University School of Law, she was on the New York City Commission on Human Rights from 2002 to 2007 and later was state deputy attorney general for human rights under then-Attorney General Cuomo.
Sen. Bill Perkins, a Manhattan Democrat and a black leader in the Legislature, said he sees no reason to oppose the nomination "except for the fact that she is not from the old boys' network and that's the kind of social engineering we shouldn't have."
She was one of seven potential nominees found well-qualified by the state Commission on Judicial Nomination, which reviewed 75 applicants.
Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican, said she was not the best candidate.
Sen. Daniel Squadron, a Manhattan Democrat, said Rivera's qualifications are "stellar."
Cuomo said afterward that some of the greatest judges on the top New York and federal courts, including retired Chief Judge Judith Kaye, brought no previous judicial experience to the bench. He said Rivera has made a career of public service and civil rights work, and that one chief difference in her resume is that she never pursued money by working for big corporations or helping rich individual clients establish trusts.
"What makes a good court a great court, in my opinion, is that breadth of experience," Cuomo said. "What she brings to that court, frankly, no one there has."
Rivera said her commitment to Cuomo and New Yorkers is to remain true to the rule of law. Asked about being an activist judge, she said, "I've made very clear to the committee and to the senators when I spoke with them that I will take every case based on the rule of law and the issues that come up in that case before me, that my approach to judicial decision-making is to apply the rule of law in that case."