'Practical and Pragmatic'
Rivera's writings seem to combine theoretical and pragmatic themes.
For instance, she has written about domestic violence from an abstract viewpoint and has also offered suggestions on how best to serve Latina victims ("The Availability of Domestic Violence Services for Latinas in New York State," 21 Buffalo Journal of Public Interest Law 37, 2002-2003). She has written about intimate partner violence and possible remedies ("Intimate Partner Violence Strategies: Models for Community Participation," 50 Maine Law Review, 283, 1998). And she has addressed notice in §1983 claims against municipalities, concluding that recent federal court rulings have reduced the effectiveness of the statute and suggesting that notice should not be based just on inference ("Extra! Extra! Read All About It: What a Plaintiff 'Knows or Should Know' Based on Officials' Statements and Media Coverage of Police Misconduct for Notice of a §1983 Municipal Liability Claim," 28 Fordham Urban Law Journal 505, 2000).
"The one thing I think is very interesting about her work is it is very practical, bridging the gap between traditional academic scholarship and talks about a problem and solving a problem," said Ruthann Robson, a CUNY law professor who has collaborated with Rivera on several articles. "She is very solution-oriented and practical: 'Here is what the law should be. Here is what the state could do. Here are some recommendations.' She is not someone who just complains and spins thing in an ivory tower sort of way. She is very grounded."
Christine Ortiz, a third-year student at CUNY Law who worked with Rivera at the Center for Latina and Latino Rights and Equality, which Rivera founded, said Rivera is committed to her students.
"She always makes sure to have that one-on-one connection with us, and to take the time with her students," Ortiz said. "It shows how humble she is."
The center, which focuses on social justice and Latina/Latino issues, examines matters from a scholarly perspective but also offers practical solutions to the problems it identifies. For example, it advocated for greater Federal Communications Commission activity in combating hate crimes, and students under Rivera's tutelage meet with and strategize with litigators.
"She is very practical, and pragmatic, and has an engagement in the law," Robson said.
But some practitioners, academics and judges, all of whom requested anonymity, expressed concern that Rivera's academic writing as well as her practical experience are largely geared toward a narrow part of the lawcivil rights and Latino/Latina affairsand not the panoply of issues that arrive at the Court of Appeals. They said they see no evidence yet of an uncommon intellect, originality or any traits that would distinguish her from many other law professors, let alone experienced Appellate Division justices.
Others observers, however, are unconcerned, noting that many of the tribunal's best judges had focused on a relatively narrow field of law prior to their ascension. Former Chief Judge Judith Kaye, for example, had never been a judge, spent most of her career as a commercial litigator and yet authored landmark opinions in areas of the law she had never practiced.
Cuomo has said little about why he chose Rivera over the other six candidates (Appellate Division, First Department Justice Rolando Acosta; First Department Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam; Fourth Department Justice Eugene Fahey; David Schulz of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz; Kathy Chin of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft; and Margarita Rosa, the executive director of the Grand Street Settlement). In a press release, the governor cited Rivera's "legal expertise and passion for social justice."
Theory Versus Practice
Paul Horwitz, a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law, said that historically academics have ended up on courts when a president or governor is eager to appoint someone with a particular philosophy or point of view.
Horwitz said scholars potentially bring to the judiciary "a breadth of vision, a command of legal materials, a capacity to deal with complex legal issues, a capacity to read and write a great deal and hopefully occasionally write well. Those are the strengths."
The weakness, he said, is whether a judge who came from the academy may be stranded in theory and remote from practical, real-world considerations.
"There is an element of 'it works in theory but does it work in practice,'" Horwitz said. "I think that potential criticism or concern is absolutely fair and important and perhaps speaks to things we as law professors ought to be doing more, but hopefully an appellate bench has a diversity of approaches."