By Tom Precious
ALBANY – A week after Senate Republicans raised concerns about her lack of judicial experience, Jenny Rivera was confirmed this afternoon by the full Senate as a judge on the state’s highest court.
Rivera, a law professor at the City University of New York and former senior civil rights lawyer in the attorney general’s office when Gov. Andrew Cuomo was the state’s top lawyer, was approved by a voice vote of the chamber -- meaning there is no record of who voted for and against her.
Rivera, a Bronx resident who grew up in a public housing project on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, replaces Carmen Ciparick on the Court of Appeals, one of the most influential state courts in the nation.
In a rare moment for a gubernatorial nominee to the high court, Rivera came under sharp questioning for nearly five hours by Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. Eight of the committee’s Republicans ended up voting against her last week, with one – Sen. John Bonacic, the committee chairman – suggesting Cuomo engaged in “social engineering" of the court by picking a Hispanic lawyer with not enough experience compared to other Hispanics who might have been considered.
With Rivera on the court, “Justice will be served," Democratic Senate co-leader Jeff Klein told his colleagues on the Senate floor. She will serve at least 14 years.
But Bonacic said that while he has voted for all eight members of the Court of Appeals who have come before the Senate since he was elected to the chamber in 1998, he could not vote for Rivera today. “I have concerns … that she will be prone to judicial activism," the Hudson Valley Republican said.
Bonacic said Cuomo asked lawmakers “to make a leap" that someone with no judicial experience and who has spent most of her life teaching law should go on the state’s top court. He noted Cuomo passed over three judges on the state’s appellate division – including a Hispanic judge - to pick Rivera from the names on a judicial screening list for the opening on the court.
Supporters checked off a list of names of lawyers named to the state’s highest court or the U.S. Supreme Court without judicial experience.