What Jenny Rivera says about Andrew Cuomo

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Cuomo and Rivera. ()
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"Judge Jenny Rivera, doesn't that have a beautiful sound?" Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked a crowd at the Capitol on Monday evening, shortly after Rivera was officially confirmed as the newest judge on the state's Court of Appeals.

Rivera, a law professor at CUNY, had just survived some light resistance from Republicans in the State Senate, who objected to her lack of judicial experience, and dragged out her confirmation, before they ultimately approved it in a voice vote.

For Cuomo, the selection of Rivera represented a first step in putting his own stamp on the state's highest court, and revealed something of his judicial philosophy going forward.

It was always presumed that Cuomo would pick a woman or a minority candidate, or both, to fill the seat being vacated by Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, the first Latina to serve on the high court. And the judicial selection committee that vets potential nominees had presented him with a diverse set of seven possibilities, three of whom were sitting judges on the state's lower courts, and two of whom are attorney in private practice.

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In picking Rivera, the governor endorsed the idea of bringing outsiders onto the court, arguing on Monday that to require judicial experience as a prerequisite "would just be appointing the same type of person with the same type of experience over and over again."

Cuomo said what makes Rivera "supremely qualified" is her work helping people, and that experience would, in turn, benefit the court.

"What makes a good court a great court in my experience is that breadth of experience," he said.

To justify the pick, Cuomo recounted the story of another woman without judicial experience who his father picked in the 1980s: Judith Kaye, who went on to a distinguished career on the Court of Appeals.

In ideological terms, Cuomo's choice of Rivera also suggests his court picks will hew closer to the liberalism of Mario than the business-friendly centrism of his first two years in office. After an overhaul of the appointment process allowed him to stock the court, Mario Cuomo made an active attempt to rectify the longtime lack of minorities.

Republicans insisted their objections weren't about her race, and instead expressed concerns about Rivera's lack of bench experience, dispensing with the usual deference and subjecting her to a five-hour grilling in committee.

Judiciary Chairman John Bonacic repeatedly decried her selection as "social engineering" and said he had concerns she would be "prone to judicial activism."

Rivera told reporters her "approach to judicial decision-making is to apply the rule of law" in each case, but Cuomo didn't exactly disagree that she would take an active interest in the problems of people.

"Judge Rivera spent her life working on real life problems and situations that the people of this state face," Cuomo said, saying the one thing missing from her resume was an attempt to profit from her expertise.

"She spent her life doing public service helping people live their lives, helping people achieve the American dream, helping people face and confront inequities in their life. And I think that makes her supremely qualified."

Rivera also had one other line on her resume that the governor covets: she previously worked in the attorney general's office under Cuomo, who is known to prize familiarity and loyalty.