Legislators Slam Quick Confirmation of Oronoz as Chief Justice
SAN JUAN – The Senate confirmed Maite Oronoz as chief justice of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court Tuesday night without first holding public hearings, which has drawn heavy criticism from minority legislators.
“The confirmation itself is not the issue, but the way it was carried out definitely is,” New Progressive Party (NPP) minority speaker Larry Seilhamer told Caribbean Business. “The chief justice of the Supreme Court is in charge of one of the three major branches of government. To make a decision of this magnitude without senators and the people learning about her positions on various important issues related to the judicial branch and Puerto Rico in general is inconceivable,” he added.
Some of the issues Seilhamer seeks to learn about Oronoz’s views include the government’s non-payment of its constitutional debt, the need to properly evaluate judges before being appointed as such, the judicial branch’s $340 million budget during a time of fiscal crisis, the severe shortfalls in the commonwealth retirement fund, and the various closings of regional courts, among others.
The upper chamber of the Legislature confirmed Oronoz without holding public hearings, because some of the justices associated with the NPP were planning to take over the judicial branch, Senate President Eduardo Bhatia said Tuesday. Bhatia and the Senate majority are associated with the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), the NPP’s main political rival.
The quickness of the confirmation also sought to prevent a possible constitutional challenge, in light of a lawsuit that two NPP gubernatorial candidates recently submitted to the Puerto Rico Supreme Court.
Fifteen members of the PDP delegation voted in favor of the confirmation despite being rejected entirely by the NPP and Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP by its Spanish acronym) minority delegations, and despite three PDP senators – Luis Daniel Rivera Filomeno, Pedro Rodríguez and Ramón Ruiz – also voting against it.
PIP Sen. María de Lourdes Santiago told Caribbean Business that the mechanism used to confirm Oronoz was “clumsy,” especially since various sectors requested public hearings. “Apart from the way this confirmation has been carried out, my objections are mostly based on the poor performance that Justice Oronoz has shown regarding human and civil rights in Puerto Rico.”