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The LGBT Community Approves: Puerto Rico Confirms First Lesbian Supreme Court Justice

First Posted: Feb 24, 2016 10:00 AM EST
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Puerto Rico's senate has confirmed Judge Maite Oronoz Rodriguez as its new Supreme Court chief justice and she is the first high-ranking official to openly profess that she's a lesbian.

The senators voted 14-12 in favor of Oronoz Rodriguez's confirmation following her nomination in early February by Gov. Alejandro García Padilla. "It is time for a generational change. I tasked this job to the youngest justice in the court Maite Oronoz Rodríguez," the governor said in announcing the nomination.

Serving The Courts

The 39-year-old became a member of the courts in 2014 after working as an attorney who took on labor cases. An expert of the constitution, Oronoz Rodriguez also held critical positions as a deputy solicitor general in San Juan and as chief legal counselor before becoming an associate justice. But she had her start as a clerk for former chief justice Federico Hernández Denton.

Oronoz Rodriguez took law at the University of Puerto Rico, where she finished Magna Cum Laude while serving as editor of the school's Law Review. She received further studies and earned her master's degree at Columbia University in the United States.

The newly-appointed chief justice will replace Liana Fiol Matta who is set to retire this year at 70-years-old. Puerto Rican laws dictate that this is the age limit for its court members.

Other Leaders React

"The Judicial Branch is in the hands of a first rate jurist, who is part of our country's new generation of leaders," Padilla said after learning of his nominee's confirmation Monday.

Lambda Legal, an organization that supports civil rights, also commended the senators' decision. "We are pleased with Governor García Padilla's decision and applaud this important moment in Puerto Rico," the group said in a statement. "It is critical that the judiciary be composed of judges who truly represent and understand the issues faced by all of the people affected by its rulings, including LGBT people." The group believes that the new chief justice will also "boost public confidence in the courts."

However, conservatives expressed their reservations about the appointment through Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves, the leader of Puerto Rico's Catholic Church. Oronoz Rodriguez is reportedly dating Gina Mendez, who works in the office of Senate President Eduardo Bhatia as his chief of staff.

Upon her swearing in as an associate justice last year, Oronoz Rodriguez promised to uphold the rights of those "who demand justice, regardless of race, color, gender, nationality, social origin or condition, sexual orientation or identity, or political or religious ideals."

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