Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick: An Extraordinary Judge and Public Servant
Galvao, Antonio E., Albany Law Review
On December 1, 1993, I was serving the second of a two-year clerkship as a Central Staff Attorney at the New York Court of Appeals when Governor Mario Cuomo nominated Justice Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick to serve as the newest member of the court. The historic nomination--she would be the first Latin American and second woman to sit on New York's highest court--was received with excitement and curiosity at the court. After attending the Governor's press conference and observing the nominee in person, I decided to apply for a clerkship with her.
The next week, she interviewed me in her supreme court chambers in the New York County courthouse. With a warm smile and a few anecdotes she made me feel comfortable and welcome right away, and I took it as a good sign that she asked as many questions about my personal background and interests as my legal skills. Though the interview went well my clerkship hopes faded when the year ended without further word from her. On January 4, 1994, as I was sitting in the back of the crowded courtroom waiting for Judge Ciparick to be sworn into office momentarily, a court attendant suddenly entered the courtroom and motioned for me to step outside. I was informed: "They want you in the robing room right now." In response to my uncomprehending, "What?!", the attendant grabbed me by a lapel and we did a quick trot through the courthouse to the robing room.
The narrow robing room was crowded with the members of the court, and the doorway was blocked by Governor Cuomo. Looking over the Governor's shoulder, I caught the eye of Chief Judge Kaye who pointed me out to Judge Ciparick, who asked me, with the whole court assembled, if I still wanted the job. And so I was hired. To make it all the more thrilling, the first person to congratulate me and shake my hand was none other than Mario Cuomo, a long-time hero from my old neighborhood of Jamaica, Queens. It was a most memorable way to get hired, and a great introduction to the ways and charms of the least self-important public official I've ever known.
We immediately got to work that same afternoon and I found my new boss to be a very seasoned and knowledgeable judge, a veteran of many, many criminal and civil trials. Judge Ciparick knew the law, the courts and the legal system inside out, and it struck me right away that she had a very practical, real-world appreciation of the consequences of her decisions for litigants, lawyers, the legal system and society as a whole. I also sensed an affinity for the underdog and an ability to relate to the lives of ordinary people. Judge Ciparick knew what it was like to struggle and strive for professional success, having attended law school at night while working for a living as a public school teacher, and she knew what it was like to represent poor and disadvantaged New Yorkers as a Legal Aid lawyer in the South Bronx--her first job out of law school. (1)
Judge Ciparick brought unique professional and personal experiences to the Court of Appeals, and she blended them with a strong commitment to the constitution as a protector of individual rights. Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. v. State of New York, (2) a constitutional challenge to the state's public school financing system, provided an early significant glimpse into Judge Ciparick's judicial philosophy. Writing for the majority, Judge Ciparick concluded that the plaintiffs, including individual students and parents, had stated a viable cause of action under the Education Clause of the State Constitution. She firmly rejected the dissenting opinion's view that the content of the Education Clause--and the concept of a sound basic education--could not be qualitatively or judicially determined. In her view, New York's constitution imposed an affirmative duty on the legislature to ensure the availability of a sound basic education for the state's children, and the court had a corresponding "responsib[ility] for adjudicating the nature of that duty. …