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On Monday, June 23, 2014, the Puerto Rico Senate confirmed attorney Maite Oronoz Rodríguez [en] as a Supreme Court judge. The historic nomination marks the first time that an openly gay individual has been appointed to the country's highest court. Oronoz Rodríguez, who is the fifth woman to serve on the Supreme Court, expressed her gratitude and pride in a written statement [en]:
I am pleased that the democratic process has resulted in my nomination. I am proud to continue to serve this country, this time from the Supreme Court. My commitment to the country and to the constitution of Puerto Rico is unwavering. Through me, the people of Puerto Rico will have an honest and fair judge, loyal to the letter of the Constitution. I thank the Governor and the Senate for the opportunity to reaffirm this commitment.
The Senate's vote to confirm Oronoz Rodríguez fell mostly along partisan lines, with 16 votes in her favor and 10 against [Oronoz was nominated by the governor of Puerto Rico, Alejandro García Padilla, from the Partido Popular Democrático–Popular Democratic Party]. Among those voting against Oronoz Rodríguez was the only female senator, of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, María de Lourdes Santiago. Santiago explained that her decision was based on Oronoz Rodríguez’ involvement in a controversial case, when as the director of San Juan's Municipal Legal Division she defended the Mayor's decision to impose searches on every individual who would attend this year's San Sebastian Street Festival. The searches were deemed unconstitutional in court.
The confirmation process was not without hitches. After the vote that confirmed Oronoz Rodríguez as a Supreme Court judge, some senators requested a recount of the vote. Amárilis Pagán (@AmarilisPagan), feminist lawyer and LGBT advocate, expressed her frustration with the process:
Si no hubiera una lesbofobia rampante dentro del Capitolio, no estaríamos en este trance con la confirmación de Oronoz. Vergüenza nacional. — Amárilis Pagán (@AmarilisPagan) June 23, 2014
If it weren't for the rampant lesbophobia in the Capital, we wouldn't be in this mess over Oronoz’ confirmation. National embarrassment.
LGBT activist Pedro Julio Serrano praised Oronoz Rodríguez’ conduct during the confirmation process:
Maite se presentó sin miedo – con todas sus identidades a flor de piel y ante la vista del País. Su nombramiento merecía esa misma valentía. Lo tuvo, a final de cuentas, pero de manera atropellada. Hay que ir de frente, sin miedo, de cara al sol, con respeto y dignidad. Como merecemos las personas LGBTT, como merecemos tod@s l@s seres human@s.
Maite presented herself fearlessly – with all her identities in full view of the country. Her appointment [as a judge] merits this same bravery. It happened, at the end of the day, but in a tumultuous way. We must proceed straightforwardly, without fear, faces to the sun, with respect and dignity. As we LGBT individuals deserve. As all humans deserve.
The new judge was congratulated by Puerto Rican Congress members Luis Gutiérrez and Nydia Velázquez via Twitter:
It's a great day for #LGBT equality & advancing civil rights in PR. I applaud the Governor for nominating Maite Oronoz Rodríguez. — Luis V. Gutierrez (@RepGutierrez) June 23, 2014
Not only will Maite Oronoz make a superb judge but her appointment to PR's Supreme Court is an important step forward for civil rights. — Rep. Nydia Velazquez (@NydiaVelazquez) June 16, 2014
In a column for digital magazine 80 grados, queer activist Yoryie Irizarry (@CyborgYoryie) astutely observed that this historic moment is the fruit of the LGBT community's long fight for equality:
A diferencia de lo que piensan nuestras aliadas y aliados, yo he decidido pensar que ese momento histórico no nos viene cortesía del gobernador Alejandro García Padilla. Este momento histórico nos lo hemos ganado en las calles, en las legislaturas, en nuestras comunidades y empleos, educando, haciéndonos visibles, deponiendo, escribiendo, firmando cartas, debatiendo y trabajando.
Contrary to what our allies may think, I've decided to think that this historic moment does not come to us courtesy of Governor Alejandro García Padilla. We've earned this historic moment in the streets, in the legislature, in our communities and workplaces, educating, making ourselves visible, testifying, writing, signing letters, fighting, and working.
The public discussion raised by Oronoz Rodríguez’ nomination highlights society's persistent fixation on the sexual orientation of public figures, to the point that fundamental issues, like her performance and knowledge, are taking a backseat. In an article for digital magazine El Post Antillano, Jaime Pieras Castañer describes the problem:
Cuando se discutía el nombramiento en los medios se enfatizaba demasiado en la orientación social de la nominada. Aparentemente, hubiese estado bien si no fuese sincera sobre su orientación sexual, pero lo dijo. Thomas Rivera Schatz, ex presidente del Senado, expresó en un apasionado discurso […] en el Senado que ella era la que había traído a la atención que era lesbiana. Bah, como si eso tuviese que ver con sus clasificaciones o con las consideraciones que deben de ser parte de cualquier deliberación sobre los dotes o el talento de Oronoz.
The media coverage of the nomination focused too much on the social orientation of the nominee. Apparently, it would have been fine if she weren't open about her sexual orientation, but she disclosed it. Thomas Rivera Schatz, ex-president of the Senate, said in a heated speech […] in the Senate that [Oronoz Rodríguez] herself brought her sexual orientation to public attention. As if that has anything to do with her qualifications or with any of the factors that should be part of any discussion of Oronoz’ gifts and talent.
Érika Fontánez Torres, lawyer, Law professor and editor of the digital magazine Derecho al Derecho, offers an interesting opinion in the magazine's podcast (at around minute 11:20):
Hay alguna gente que a raíz de toda esta discusión ha dicho “no, es que no es importante, no es relevante que ella sea lesbiana o no” y, bueno, lo primero que tendríamos que decir, “sí, que sí que lo es”, […] sí que las subjetividades son importantes en el Tribunal, sí que añaden a la mesa, sí que la diversidad es importante a la hora de la deliberación de los jueces […], y si esa persona tiene, como en el caso de Maite Oronoz, una experiencia de vida desde esa ubicación, eso me parece extraordinario.
There are some people who have responded to this discussion by saying, “No, it's not important, it's irrelevant whether or not she's a lesbian,” but well, the first thing we should be saying is “Yes, yes, it is important”… yes, subjectivities are important in Court, yes, they do bring something to the table, yes, diversity is important when the judges are deliberating […], and if an individual, like Maite Oronoz, has a life experience from that perspective, I would say that's extraordinary.