Hudson Valley YNN: Governor’s nomination for Court of Appeals being challenged

February 07, 2013

Febuary 5, 2013 : by Nick Reisman

Governor Cuomo has nominated Jenny Rivera to serve on the Court of Appeals. But some senators raised concerns about her lack of experience, delaying the judiciary committee's vote on Tuesday. And at least one senator still had questions about why exactly Rivera was picked. Capital Tonight's Nick Reisman reports.

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Confirmations for the state's highest court tend to be anti-climatic affairs. The governor makes a nomination to the Court of Appeals and the State Senate reviews the candidate and then confirms them. But not this time.

“I don't understand why we are here today, why we are here debating and having this long discussion. Two days on something that should have taken several hours,” said State Senator Malcolm Smith.

Governor Andrew Cuomo last month nominated Jenny Rivera, a city university law professor, to fill a vacancy on the court left by Ellen Beauchamp Ciparick, the first Latina to sit on the bench. But Senate Republicans decried her lack of courtroom experience. And Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman went further, saying governors past and present are trying to socially engineer the court.

“They tend to be what I call social engineers of the court. Everything has to be racially balanced. We need a woman, we need a Hispanic. We need an Afro-American. We need some Caucasians. Maybe we need an Asian. I don't necessarily adhere to those philosophies,” said State Senator John Bonacic.

It's rare that lawmakers would oppose a gubernatorial appointment to the court, much less vote one down. Senate Democrats who backed Rivera's confirmation were puzzled by the GOP opposition.

State Senator Brad Hoylman said, “I don't understand it. This candidate is extremely well qualified no matter her skin color or gender, no matter where she's from.”

But Republicans insisted that their opposition was rooted in Rivera's resume, despite accolades from the state Bar Association and her work for both U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and in the state Attorney General's office under Cuomo.

Bonacic said, “It should never be about color or gender. It should be about the best and brightest.”

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos expects the full Senate to approve the confirmation of Rivera, despite reservations. Skelos says he will vote yes.

“I think there is a lack of trial experience and judicial experience, but this is the governor's appointment,” Skelos said. “Certainly our conference members have the right to vote anyway they wish.”

The full Senate is expected to vote to confirm Rivera next Monday.