The award, which celebrates the accomplishments of lawyers who promote a more racially and ethnically diverse legal profession, will be presented Feb. 9 at the Hilton Anatole during the ABA Midyear Meeting in Dallas.
Calling her “the ultimate change maker” in a letter recommending Rivera for the award, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “She has a deep and abiding commitment to social justice and an understanding and unwavering belief in the power of our laws to transform lives and make opportunities possible.” Sotomayor served on the hiring committee for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, which brought Rivera on board as a staff attorney. Sotomayor, then a district court judge, was so impressed with Rivera’s work on the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Educational Fund that she asked Rivera to serve as her law clerk.
Rivera founded the Center on Latino and Latina Rights and Equality to promote law reform scholarship, public education and litigation in support of expanded civil rights, with a focus on issues affecting the Latino community. To further enhance the center’s work, Rivera launched CLORE High School Law Academy to help build a pipeline to the legal profession for underrepresented communities.
Her work on social justice issues and diversity in the legal profession has been recognized with numerous awards. Rivera received the 2012 Diversity Trailblazer Lifetime Achievement Award from the New York State Bar Association. The Hispanic National Bar Association presented her with the 2009 Presidential Advocacy Award. Hispanic Business named her one of the Elite Women of 2005, and El Diario/La Prensa named her one of the outstanding Latinas of 2000.
A graduate of Princeton University, Rivera received her J.D. from New York University School of Law and her LL.M. from Columbia University School of Law.
“Jenny Rivera embodies the ideals of the Spirit of Excellence Award. She has devoted her career to the cause of civil rights and to diversity and inclusion in many areas, including at our nation’s law schools,” said Reginald Turner, the chair of the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession.
“As the founder of the Center for Latino and Latina Rights and Equality at CUNY law school, she not only advances these causes but honors the legacy of her mentor, Justice Sonia Sotomayor,” Turner added. “Even more important, Professor Rivera has created an infrastructure for future generations of lawyers to build upon.”
The mission of the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession is to promote racial and ethnic diversity and inclusion within the legal profession. It serves as a catalyst for change, so that the profession may more accurately reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of society, and better serve society. The Commission takes actions to promote the recruitment, hiring, promotion and advancement of attorneys of color, and works to ensure equal membership and employment opportunities for diverse lawyers in the American Bar Association. The Commission accomplishes these goals through many initiatives, activities and programs, including the Spirit of Excellence Award.
With nearly 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.