Eight years ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo nominated Jenny Rivera to serve on the state's highest court. Her nomination was an historic one, making her the first Latina judge on the bench at the Court of Appeals.
Republicans who controlled the state Senate at the time raised objections to what was usually a pro forma process in Albany, practically the polar opposite of the titanic battles over the Supreme Court at the federal level.
Then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Bonacic questioned Rivera's qualifications, and implicitly suggested she was being nominated not for her qualifications and resume, but because of her gender and ethnicity.
The fight was a brief one, and Rivera sits on the court to this day. Eight years later, a lot has changed in Albany, with Democrats hold veto-proof supermajorities in the state Assembly and Senate.
Democrats in the state Senate confirmed on Tuesday the appointments of Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas and Administrative Judge Anthony Cannataro to serve on the court, both nominated by Cuomo.
Singas's confirmation was perhaps the most contentious since Bonacic's objections to Rivera. But the concerns raised by a progressive group of Democrats on Tuesday in the state Senate were based in large part on her record as a prosecutor on Long Island.
Several Democrats, including Sens. Alessandra Biaggi, Gustavo Rivera and Robert Jackson, questioned Singas's prosecutorial background. The questions do not come in a vacuum: Lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled legislative chambers over the last two years have approved package after package of criminal justice law changes, reversing the tidal flow of laws they felt were tilted unfairly in favor of police and prosecutors.
Criminal justice advocates, including a public defenders organization, had also raised objections to Singas's nomination, citing her work as a prosecutor. At issue, in part, are the reform measures addressing areas like bail and parole the Court of Appeals could one day address. At the same time, opponents pointed to two other former prosecutors sitting on the bench, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Judge Michael Garcia.
Singas had her defenders, including Sonia Ossorio, the president of NY NOW, who wrote an op/ed in her defense. And, highlight just how key they continue to be in the state Senate, relatively moderate suburban Democrats from Singas's home county of Nassau backed her confirmation, including Sens. Todd Kaminsky and Kevin Thomas.
Singas defended her role as a local prosecutor, pointing to her work with establishing a juvenile justice reform program years before one was approved in Albany.
"I don't think it's fair to be placed into a box because of my profession, because of how I chose to conduct my public service," Singas said at her Judiciary Committee meeting, "and I think that people should look at my record."