Saturday, January 19, 2013

Jenny Rivera: Cuomo's High Court Pick

Jenny Rivera
Age: 52
Home: Bronx
Princeton, NYU Law, Columbia Law
She a non-traditional nominee.

Yes, she's a woman and Puerto Rican.
It's not that.
Even if that's been the focus of much commentary.
Hopefully we're beyond that being any issue.
Certainly in New York.

But, she is out of the ordinary for nominees to the Court of Appeals, New York's highest court.

She's not a judge.
She's doesn't work in the judiciary.
Not a practicing attorney.
Doesn't work in a law firm.
Not a government lawyer.
Doesn't work in a district attorney's office, or in the legislature, or in an executive branch office.
No, she's not in any position or in any line of work that is a traditional source of Court of Appeals Judges.

Governor Andrew Cuomo's nominee is an academic.
And she's not a traditional academic either.
[Let me be clear at the outset that I do NOT view her being non-traditional as a negative. Just atypical. I've made that clear previously: see link below to the interview on Capital Tonight with Liz Benjamin.]

Jenny Rivera is a professor at CUNY (City University of New York) law school.
She's also the director of CLORE--i.e., the school's Center on Latina and Latino Rights and Equality.

Among the courses she teaches are:
Latina/os and the Law, and
Paradigmatic Challenges to Race-Based Discrimination Theory and Practice.

Among her legal publications, her resume lists:
"Translating Equality: Language, Law and Poetry,"
"An Equal Protection Standard for National Origin Subclassifications,"
"Mainstream Legal Responses to Domestic Violence vs. Real Needs of Diverse Communities, Conference: Revolutions Within Communities,"
"The Violence Against Women Act and the Construction of Multiple Consciousness in the Civil Rights and Feminist Movements,"
"The Politics of Invisibility," and
"Domestic Violence Against Latinas by Latino Males: An Analysis of Race, National Origin, and Gender Differentials."

In short, her academic focus is at least as much sociology as law.
Not the traditional nuts and bolts that the typical law profs--or typical lawyers--typically deal with.
It's sure not the traditional examination of statutes and judicial decisions that the typical law profs or lawyers typically spend their time with.
No, it's pretty non-traditional.

Good, bad, or indifferent, it's certainly different than the usual focus of law profs and lawyers--and judicial nominees.
Rightly or wrongly, it's sure to ruffle some establishment, traditionalist types.
[It does seem, however, to be the sort of study--i.e., legal realism and sociological jurisprudence--that the great judges Holmes and Cardozo thought was unfortunately missing from legal education and unfortunately missing from most judges' understanding and even awareness.
Yes, I think more of that needs to inform judicial decision-making.
OK, I do kind of like what I'm learning about Jenny Rivera.]

And she's a liberal.
Yes, it seems indisputable, that she's politically very liberal.
[By the way, currently on the Court there is only 1 liberal, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. There's 4 fairly to very conservative Pataki appointees and Lippman. So it's 4-1. That's the immediate ideological consequence of Judge Carmen Ciparick's retirement and Judge Theodore Jones's tragic passing away.]

Consider Professor Rivera's career thus far:
Homeless Family Rights attorney,
Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund associate counsel,
Clerk for then-Judge Sonia Sotomayor,
NYC Commission on Human rights commissioner,
Special Deputy NYS Attorney General for Civil Rights, and now
Director of CUNY's Center on Latino and Latina Rights and Equality (CLORE).

And, for example, as Special Deputy Attorney General, she--according to her resume--"supervised the Bureau’s civil rights investigations and enforcement actions involving discrimination in employment, predatory lending, health services, and access to public accommodations. Coordinated and lead outreach to community and civil rights advocacy groups, and designed and delivered presentations on civil rights."
As Director of CUNY's CLORE, she--again, from her resume--devoted herself  "to promot[ing] law reform scholarship, public education, and litigation in support of expanded civil rights related to issues impacting the  Latino community in the United States."

So, connect the dots: her courses, her legal scholarship, and her work as an attorney in academia, government, and elsewhere. There should be little doubt which side Jenny Rivera would likely take on most issues with a clear politically liberal versus politically conservative dividing line. Or how she would likely vote on related issues at the Court of Appeals.

Just consider this: Jenny Rivera as part of the conservative wing on the Court of Appeals?  As they say, there's 2 chances, and slim's out of town.
On the other hand: Jenny Rivera as a liberal ally of the Chief Judge? That's a good bet. No, extremely good..

So where does that leave her nomination?

Well, she's got a track record (albeit non-judicial) and a paper trail. Non-traditional, politically liberal, and pretty extensive. Will any of that receive attention in the confirmation process? What, if anything, will the State's Senators make of that--or of anything else---in their constitutional role of advise and consent?

We'll find out shortly. The State Senate has 30 days from January 15, the day Governor Cuomo nominated Rivera, to make its decision.

We'll say a few things about the Senate confirmation hearings in a shortly forthcoming post.

[For additional commentary on Cuomo's nomination of Jenny Rivera, see "CUNY Law's Rivera Named to Fill Ciparick Seat," by Joel Stashenko and John Caher, in the New York Law Journal, Jan. 16, 2013, at

For the interview on Capital Tonight with Liz Benjamin, Jan. 16, 2013:
Albany Law’s Bonventre on Court of Appeals Nominee  On Tuesday, Governor Cuomo announced that he is nominating Jenny Rivera to the the New York State Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. If confirmed by the Senate, she will replace Judge Carmen Ciparick who is retiring because she has reached the age limit for judges. Albany Law professor and New York Court Watch blogger Vin Bonventre discusses what kind of judge Rivera might be.
Available at  or May need a Time Warner account to access.]