What Does Puerto Rico's First Out-and-Proud Supreme Court Nominee Mean For LGBT Rights?

Maite Oronoz Rodríguez. Screenshot from video.

Maite Oronoz Rodríguez. Screenshot from video.

*All links lead to information in Spanish, unless otherwise noted.

The Governor of Puerto Rico, Alejandro García Padilla, has nominated Maite Oronoz Rodríguez to fill a seat on the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, making her the first openly lesbian lawyer to have been tapped for the most powerful judicial body in the country.  If confirmed, Oronoz Rodríguez will also be the highest ranking member of the LGBT community in the judicial branch of Puerto Rico's government and the fifth woman to serve on the Supreme Court. 

Oronoz Rodríguez's sexual orientation came to light when she herself publicly thanked her partner Gina Méndez for her support. The moment was captured in the following video from Noticias 24/7, who covered the press conference where her appointment was announced:

On Twitter, many people praised Oronoz Rodríguez's honesty, among them the journalist Benjamín Torres Gotay:

By publicly thanking her partner, Maite Oronoz has performed an act of extraordinary courage.

With this nomination coming on the heels of measures approved last year extending greater legal protection to same-sex couples, Governor García Padilla's administration is clearly trying to distance itself from the hostility shown to the LGBT community by the previous government under Luis Fortuño of the Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP) [New Progressive Party]. Some of the most virulent hate speech against the LGBT community was made by PNP politicians, perhaps the most famous being that of former Senate Leader Thomas Rivera Schatz.

In order to be confirmed as a justice, Oronoz Rodríguez will still have to undergo the scrutiny of a hearing in the Senate, which is currently controlled by Governor García Padilla's Partido Popular Democrático. LGBT rights activist Pedro Julio Serrano urged the Senate to confirm her and congratulated her and her partner via Twitter:

Congratulations to Maite Oronoz and Gina Méndez for living their love openly. For loving this country so much and each other freely. How proud we are!

The fact that Oronoz Rodríguez decided to reveal her sexual orientation is encouraging, as prominent public figures usually choose not to, for fear of their nomination being rejected. If the appointment is confirmed, it will be interesting to see what future decisions are rendered by the Supreme Court, given that the last administration named six conservative judges, some of whom have publicly come out against marriage equality and adoption rights for same-sex couples. 

Nevertheless, it is worth drawing attention to the article written by Érika Fontánez Torres for the digital magazine 80 grados last April:

Cada vez que surge una vacante al Tribunal Supremo de Puerto Rico se mencionan “nombres”. Usualmente, los nombres están vinculados en su trayectoria profesional con el partido en el poder, herederos de alguna tradición familiar en la abogacía, ubicados en algunos de los lugares comunes de la marca de cotejo del llamado éxito en la profesión. Ninguno es neutral. Su trayectoria, la mayoría de las veces, ha estado ‘limpia’. Pero esa limpieza cuesta porque por lo general se refiere a una práctica que aunque ‘exitosa’ conforme a los parámetros de la profesión, ha sido deliberadamente cautelosa en no incomodar demasiado el estado de cosas de injusticias que prevalece, o incluso, en mantenerlo.

Every time there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, “names“ are mentioned. Usually those names reflect a career path closely related to the party in power, heirs to some familial legal tradition, found on the check list of places commonly associated with so-called professional success. None is neutral. Most of the time, the path is “unblemished”.  But this comes at a price because it usually means that, although the legal practice has been ”successful” in conforming to the parameters of the profession, it has been a deliberately cautious one that sought to accommodate or even perpetuate the injustices of the status quo.

 Pictures of Maite Oronoz were taken from this video.


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