La audiencia del 16 de enero está prevista para el tribunal federal de San Juan. (GFR Media)
President Joe Biden referred the nominations for confirmation to the U.S. Senate, where Democrats have a one-vote majority (split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris´ tie-breaking vote).

Washington - After political struggles, president Joe Biden named yesterday Court of Appeals Judge Gina Méndez Miró, U.S. District Court Judge Camille Vélez Rivé, and San Juan Federal Court Clerk of the Court María Antongiorgi Jordán to fill the three vacancies on the United States District Court in Puerto Rico.

Although it is not always this fast, by the afternoon, President Biden had already referred the nominations for confirmation to the U.S. Senate, where Democrats have a one-vote majority (split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris´ tie-breaking vote).

Méndez Miró, Vélez Rivé, and Antongiorgi Jordán are candidates to fill the seats left by Gustavo Gelpí, who serves now in the Boston First Federal Circuit Court of Appeals; Carmen Consuelo Vargas, who resigned; and Francisco Besosa, who became a senior judge because of his age.

Biden had these vacancies to fill since the end of 2021. According to White House sources, the nomination process was slightly delayed due to the dedication over the nomination and confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court.

President Biden made the announcement early yesterday - along with four other judicial nominees- six months before 117th Congress ends, a session marked by the November mid-term elections.

Referring to Méndez Miró, Biden said his new judicial nominees include “the first openly LGBT federal district court judge in Puerto Rico”.

“I am pleased that President Biden has chosen three Puerto Rican women of high professional standards to join our U.S. District Court in Puerto Rico,” said governor Pedro Pierluisi, indicating that “they bring to the federal court a wide range of academic, professional and legal experience that they will put at the service of our people along with their commitment to the laws and the U.S. Constitution that our citizens value so much.”

From left to right, magistrate judge Camille Vélez Rivé, San Juan Federal Court Clerk of the Court María Antongiorgi Jordán, and apelate judge Gina Méndez Miró.
From left to right, magistrate judge Camille Vélez Rivé, San Juan Federal Court Clerk of the Court María Antongiorgi Jordán, and apelate judge Gina Méndez Miró. (Archivo)

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner in Washington, Jenniffer González, who promoted the candidacy of her legal advisor Verónica Ferraiuoli, said that these are historic nominations, since, there are only three women judges among 35 federal judges on the island, and she stressed that they now go to the Senate, where “they will be evaluated for their qualifications, preparation, and criteria to hold such positions”.

Gina Méndez Miró

Judge Gina R. Méndez-Miró has served as a judge on the Puerto Rico Court of Appeals since 2016. From 2013 to 2016, Judge Méndez-Miró served as the Chief of Staff for the President of the Senate of Puerto Rico, Eduardo Bhatia. She served as the Assistant Attorney General for Human Resources for the Puerto Rico Department of Justice. Judge Méndez-Miró received her J.D. from the University of Puerto Rico School of Law in 2001, and her M.A. from Princeton University in 2000.

She is married to Maite Oronoz Rodríguez, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, who was considered for the position Gelpí now holds.

In Washington D. C., Méndez Miró had the support of Puerto Rican Democratic Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (N.Y.). “It is so important that the justice system reflects the diversity of our society, a huge congratulations to Gina Méndez Miró, a distinguished and historic pick to serve on the bench in PR.,” Velázquez tweeted.

In a press statement, Congresswoman Velázquez congratulated “President Biden for acting to fill these vacant positions in Puerto Rico” that have caused a backlog in the island’s judicial system.

“By putting these three new judges on the bench, we can help ensure that Puerto Ricans have full access to the justice system. I urge the Senate to act quickly to confirm all three judges,” Velázquez added.

Méndez Miró also won the endorsement of Congresswoman Grace Meng, D-New York.Others who promoted her nomination were former governors Sila María Calderón, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá and Alejandro García Padilla, New York elected officials, and the presidents of the Puerto Rico Senate and House, José Luis Dalmau Santiago and Rafael “Tatito” Hernández Montañez, respectively.

The White House also received messages of support for Méndez Miró from former Justice Secretaries and former judges appointed by the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) and New Progressive Party (NPP) governors.

“Gina Méndez Miró is a great nomination because she brings humanism, intellectualism, and well-researched critical thinking to the Federal Court. She is a woman full of compassion, empathy, and respect for the dignity of all human beings. It is a great day for the federal justice system in Puerto Rico and the United States,” said former Senator Bhatia.

Human rights activist Pedro Julio Serrano noted that singer Ricky Martin also advocated for Méndez Miró's nomination. “Today (yesterday), history is being made, and we celebrate this milestone on the road to equity,” Serrano said.

Camille Vélez Rivé

For Vélez Rivé, the nomination is a promotion.

Vélez Rivé was in Governor Pierluisi’s list of candidates, as El Nuevo Día anticipated. She has been a U.S. Court judge in San Juan since 2004.

Vélez-Rivé has served as a United States Magistrate Judge for the District of Puerto Rico since 2004. She served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico from 1998 to 2004. She was also a law clerk for Justice Francisco Rebollo-López on the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico. Judge Vélez-Rivé studied law at the University of Puerto Rico.

“She has been a magistrate in the Federal Court for almost two decades and has seen hundreds of matters related to police interventions with citizens, bail motions, and civil trials. When she starts as a district judge once she is confirmed, she will know firsthand how to serve in her courtroom and how to resolve criminal and civil controversies because she already has vast experience. She will not be learning and, with a district with so much work as Puerto Rico, that is an asset,” said attorney and political commentator Leo Aldridge, praising Vélez Rivé's appointment.

María Antongiorgi Jordán

Antongiorgi-Jordán has served as the Clerk of Court for the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico since 2019. From 2018 to 2019, she was the Chief Deputy Clerk for the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. She was a partner at McConnell Valdés. She received her LL.M from Georgetown University.

In congratulating the three nominees, U.S. Court Chief Judge in San Juan, Raúl Marxuach Arias, indicated that “out of respect for the U.S. Senate’s advice and consent power, the court will not make any further statements on this matter until the nominations process is concluded.”

The three nominees will go to a confirmation process in a divided Senate, with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. Democrats control the Senate because Vice President Harris is the presiding officer of the legislative body with the tie-break vote.

The nominations will be referred to the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Democrat Richard Durbin (Illinois), who is also the Senate’s number two.

Mayte Bayolo, who works with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); former PDP senator and former president of the U.S. Democratic Party in Puerto Rico Roberto Prats; federal public defender Sulay Ríos Fuentes; and U.S. attorney Rachel Brill were also considered by the White House for the positions.

Vélez Rivé was among Pierluisi´s candidates, but his allies publicly campaigned against Ríos Fuentes - whom they challenged for allegedly being an independentist - and Brill. Other sources have denied that Ríos Fuentes was an independentist.

Both Senator Carmelo Ríos, PNP Secretary-General, and Congressman Darren Soto, D-Florida, spoke out publicly against the appointment of an “independentist” and a person who was not of Puerto Rican descent.

Pierluisi had a meeting at the White House on January 31 about the vacancies with President Biden’s legal advisor, Steve Ricchetti, and Director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs Julie Chavez Rodríguez, co-chair of the Task Force on Puerto Rico.

“Pierluisi asked that the President (Biden) nominate people who not only have the necessary qualifications and experience but who also know the Puerto Rican reality and enjoy broad support in our community. That is what will guarantee that they will be confirmed in the U.S. Senate,” said Carmen Feliciano, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA), the governor’s representative in Washington.

The nominations announced yesterday by Biden also include Bradley García as the first Latino nominee to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, considered the second-highest court in the United States.

García is number two in the federal Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.

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