Cuomo’s Court of Appeals nominee heads for floor vote

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s nomination for the state’s highest court will be heading to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to allow the full Senate to vote on whether Jenny Rivera, a City University of New York law professor, should sit on the state Court of Appeals.

The committee meeting, however, wasn’t without suspense. Senate Republicans, who control 12 of the 23 votes in the committee, voiced concern over Cuomo’s pick and offered little support.

Rivera’s nomination was approved by the committee by with 11 yes votes from Democrats and 3 votes “without recommendation” from Republicans, which allows it to move to the Senate floor. Eight Republicans — including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Bonacic, R-Mt. Hope, Orange County — voted no.

Bonacic expressed frustration with Cuomo’s selection, accusing Cuomo of picking someone based on “social engineering” rather than her scope of work. Rivera is Puerto Rican.

Several Republicans expressed concern about Rivera’s lack of experience as a judge in a lower court or as a trial lawyer.

“I happen to believe that her breadth of law in practice was narrow. She did not have judicial experience,” Bonacic said. “And in her writings she had a couple of things that bothered me.”

Rivera, a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor at the District Court level, served as Cuomo’s special deputy attorney general for civil rights in 2007 before Cuomo moved into the governor’s office.

Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, D-Mt. Vernon, Westchester County, blasted Republicans for their opposition to Rivera’s nomination.

“If this body rejects professor Jenny Rivera for this position, I believe it to be an offense to the struggle of women, for women seeking equal employment opportunities,” Hassell-Thompson said. “It’s an insult to the diversity and aspiration of Hispanic Americans everywhere. I think the rejection of professor Jenny Rivera is very obviously a slap in the face of the governor who has selected her.”

The Senate GOP controls the chamber with the five-member Independent Democratic Conference as part of a power-sharing agreement. But the main Senate Democratic Conference and the IDC would have enough votes to approve Rivera’s nomination without Republican support if they vote unanimously.

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