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Hispanic Supreme Court nominee approved by Sen. committee

TRENTON, N.J. -- AP, The first Hispanic nominated to be a state Supreme Court justice received unanimous approval from a Senate committee Monday after a hearing one senator described as a "love fest." Roberto Rivera-Soto was widely praised by committee members and received few tough questions during the hearing at which he also gave an overview of his judicial style.

The law must be stable, but it cannot stand still," Rivera-Soto said.

His nomination now goes to the full Senate. A vote could take place as soon as Thursday. During Monday's hearing, Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Bergen, quizzed Rivera-Soto on his donations to political candidates and why he was a registered Republican but gave to Democrats.

The senator also repeatedly questioned Rivera-Soto's views on the division of political districts and whether the Supreme Court should have the power to order government spending, but eventually voted in favor of the nomination.

Other committee members asked Rivera-Soto his views on judicial activism and whether he favored the implementation of a system to evaluate judges.

The committee heard an outpouring of support for the nomination from representatives of the state's Hispanic community. They said the placement of a Hispanic on the Supreme Court was an overdue move and that Rivera-Soto was an excellent choice.

"This is a man with all the legal tools and talents to serve our great state on its highest court," said Martin Perez, president of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey.

Rivera-Soto, 50, hugged his wife and three sons after his nomination was approved by the committee. Outside the hearing room he declined to give his views on such legal topics as abortion and the death penalty.

Rivera-Soto has spent his career as a trial attorney. For more than 10 years he represented Atlantic City's casinos.

Most recently he worked at a Philadelphia law firm. He lives in Haddonfield and was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1984.

He told the committee he would approach all arguments before the Supreme Court with an open mind and that his opinions as a justice would be well researched and thought out.

"I don't believe you will ever have quarrel with my process," Rivera-Soto said.

Gov. James E. McGreevey nominated Rivera-Soto to replace Associate Justice Peter G. Verniero, whose decided not to seek reappointment when his term ends Aug. 31.

Some senators praised McGreevey for nominating Rivera-Soto and noted that Hispanics make up about 13 percent of New Jersey's population.

"If a state is to grow, it must reflect the diversity if its people," said Sen. Wayne Bryant, D-Camden.

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