Judge Gustavo Gelpí, currently the Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, has been nominated to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Gelpi is from Puerto Rico.
President Biden proposed Gelpi’s appointment in May to fill the position vacated upon the death of Judge Juan Torruella, also from Puerto Rico. The Senate Judiciary Committee sent the nomination on to the full Senate in July. The nomination is waiting on full Senate consideration, which is expected soon.
Republican Support and Concerns
Only one of the Republicans on the committee, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), voted for Gelpi. The others expressed concerns because Gelpi has spoken out against the Insular Cases, a series of Supreme Court decisions about the island territories, including Puerto Rico.
Some felt it was inappropriate for a sitting judge to comment negatively on Supreme Court decisions.
However, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “Judge Gelpí has closely followed the Constitution and the precedent when writing his opinions. His nomination is an example of how President Biden has chosen what I believe are exceptionally qualified attorneys to bring diversity to the judiciary.”
In his 20 years as a judge and his tenure as Puerto Rico Solicitor General, Gelpi has argued for equal rights for Puerto Rico many times. Gelpi ruled that residents of Puerto Rico should be eligible for SSI, for equity in federal healthcare funding, but against same-sex marriage rights in Puerto Rico.
He has more federal judicial experience than any nominee since 2014. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights wrote a letter in “strong support” of his nomination, saying, “It is vital that our judiciary reflects the diversity of the legal profession, and Judge Gelpí would bring this needed professional diversity, as well as significant legal and judicial experience in Puerto Rico, to the First Circuit.”
Puerto Rican judges
If his nomination is approved, Judge Gelpi will be the second judge from Puerto Rico to sit on the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
Other Puerto Rican judges have held positions on federal appeals courts:
- US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor sat on the Second Circuit of Appeals, in New York.
- José A. Cabranes also held a position on the Second Circuit.
- Julio Fuentes sat on the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia.
- Albert Díaz was on the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Virginia.