Judge Torruella, the Lone First Circuit Judge in Puerto Rico, Passed Away

There is no statutory requirement that his successor must reside in Puerto Rico.

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On Monday evening, Judge Juan Torruella passed away. He was the lone First Circuit judge who resided in Puerto Rico. Indeed, he was the only person to ever hold that position. The judgeship was created in 1984 (See Section 201, 98 Stat 333). Given the rapid pace of judicial appointments, it is likely that President Trump will be able to fill this vacancy before January 20. And given that Puerto Rico has no Senators who could withhold blue slips, the process should be speedy.

Is President Trump required to nominate someone who resides in Puerto Rico? The answer is no. It is a common myth that Circuit Court judgeships are attached to a specific state. They are not. They belong to the Circuit. 28 U.S.C. § 44 provides that the First Circuit shall have six active judgeships. That statute only requires that a "circuit judge shall be a resident of the circuit for which appointed at the time of his appointment and thereafter while in active service." There is no requirement that the circuit judge reside in any given state. The First Circuit covers four states: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine. As things stand now, there are two judges from Massachusetts (Lynch and Barron), one judge from New Hampshire (Howard), one judge from Rhode Island (Thompson), and one judge from Maine (Kayatta).

If Judge Lynch decided to move to New Hampshire, that would be perfectly permissible. But it would not be possible for both Judges Lynch and Barron to move out of Massachusetts. Why? Section 44 provides that "In each circuit (other than the Federal judicial circuit) there shall be at least one circuit judge in regular active service appointed from the residents of each state in that circuit." There has to be at least one judge in Massachusetts.

But, Puerto Rico is not a state. (For now at least). And there is no requirement that there should be a circuit judge from Puerto Rico. Therefore, the President could nominate a judge from anywhere else in the First Circuit.

I'm not sure what would happen if Puerto Rico becomes a state. Given this statute, there would have to be at least one judge in the new state of Puerto Rico. But who would have to move? I don't think Congress anticipated that consequence in 1984.

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  1. Baruch Dayan Ha’Emet Judge Juan Torruella.

    May his soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.

  2. In related news, Judge Juan Torruella, the first (only) Hispanic judge to serve on the First Circuit (which covers Puerto Rico) passed away.

    He was an excellent and thoughtful jurist, and, famously, an Olympic athlete (competing in four …. 4! …. Olympics … in sailing, but still).

    Judge Torruella was originally nominated by Gerald Ford to serve on the District Court (D.C. Puerto Rico). An appointee of Ronald Reagan, Judge Torruella was the first Puerto Rican to serve as a judge on the circuit court bench.

    He will be missed.

    1. What do you mean “In related news. . .”?

      That is the main topic of the post.

      1. *whoosh*

        Really? That was the MAIN TOPIC of this post?

        I had the distinct pleasure of having a law professor who was of Puerto Rican heritage, and getting to know him on a personal basis. I learned a fair bit about cases that were of little interest to most law students, and, for that matter, learning about Judge Torruella and what an amazing jurist (and person) he was in general, and how important and influential he was to the Puerto Rican legal community.

        So I was saddened to learn of his passing, yet completely unsurprised to see that Josh “What are human emotions??” Blackman used this as an opportunity to say, “Hey, guy died … now, did you know that we don’t have to have one of those Puerto Ricans as a judge? GO TRUMP!”

        1. “It is likely that President Trump will be able to fill the vacancy” is not exactly “GO TRUMP!”, though I wouldn’t have bothered to mention it myself. [Might be simply echoes of the fights over the Barret nomination.]

          The “main topic of this post” was really the rules around district judge nomination, not How Great And Interesting This Judge Totally Was Did You Know He Was An Olympian?

          (Or “he was hispanic!” and “so influential on the PR legal community”, for that matter.

          You have some personal-ish connection to him via your professor and care about those things, which is right and proper and fine. Nothin’ wrong with any of that, nor posting about them to add depth to his bio.

          But nobody else, especially Mr. Blackman is required to care about any of them, however, especially if they never knew or interacted with the man.

          People without those connections are perfectly correct in not indulging in eulogy when they’re talking about the rules of the circuits, and the process of filling vacancies.

          A person of legal training ought to know that and how that works.)

          1. There is no requirement, ever, to do anything.

            That said, AFAIK, it is not like there is a giant debate that immediately sprung up since he died YESTERDAY about this.

            And, again, Josh Blackman is noted for only opening his mouth to change feet, so it’s hardly surprising that he made this post. But yeah, the Judge Torruella was kind of a big deal, and while Blackman may suffer from a severe case of logorrhea (putting it nicely) there certainly would have been no harm in waiting, oh, a week or so before using his death as a springboard for this topic; especially given that the Judge’s life and importance and Blackman’s choice to use it to say, “No Puerto Ricans necessary.”

            Timing, etc. I realize that people like you feel the knee-jerk need to defend this, but whatever. You are know by the company you keep and the people you support.

          2. “But nobody else, especially Mr. Blackman is required to care about any of them, however, especially if they never knew or interacted with the man.”

            There is no requirement to care. But writing this post at this time in this way demonstrates what Josh cares about. And what he cares about is immediately writing about which Trump appointee can fill this seat in a lame duck session of Congress and how they don’t have to be from Puerto Rico. There is a lot you can infer from that, some of which will reflect negatively on Josh.

            1. “demonstrates what Josh cares about”

              The only thing moderately interesting about some old obscure judge dying now is the politics.

              Other than loki, how many people here ever heard of the guy? If people answer honestly, I’d say none, maybe one.

              You guys just don’t like Blackmun so anything he writes you pick apart.

              1. Yeah, you’re right. I don’t like him. Among the reasons I don’t like him is because his immediate thought on hearing someone died is to write about how his replacement doesn’t have to be from Puerto Rico. I draw negative inferences about his character from that impulse of his.

              2. “You guys just don’t like Blackmun so anything he writes you pick apart.”

                Blackmun was a justice of the Supreme Court.

                Blackman is the desperate Barrett fanboy who is the future of the Volokh Conspiracy and of movement conservatism in legal academia.

              3. Bob, you’re right.

                I don’t like Blackman. This post is only incidentally about the mechanics of circuit court appointments. He could have written that any time.

                It;s just grave-dancing – “Wow, Trump can slip another judge onto the appeals court, if he hurries. That’s great.”

    2. What’s wrong with sailing?

      1. Absolutely nothing. But if I had said nothing, I am quite sure someone would have said, “That’s not a real sport,” because, apparently, people dying is a partisan issue.

      2. Nothing in general.

        In my case, being a poor swimmer who is prone to seasickness, it’s not an attractive activity, but I have friends who fully believe that,

        there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.

  3. I don’t see how the quoted language requires that the judges balance their states of residence after confirmation. The appointed-from language only says where they must come from at that time. It does say they have to remain resident within the circuit afterward, (although even that would be a hard thing to actually enforce if a judge were of a mind to flout it).

    1. Came here to say that.

      “Appointed from the residents of” is pointedly NOT “be at all times a resident of”.

      A Judge could move the moment they were confirmed, and be within that rule.

      1. Right, what they couldn’t do, is be appointed from somewhere else, and then move to Puerto Rico to satisfy the law. Because that wouldn’t satisfy the law.

        “I’m not sure what would happen if Puerto Rico becomes a state. Given this statute, there would have to be at least one judge in the new state of Puerto Rico. But who would have to move?”

        Blackman has the law backwards. Nobody would have to move to Puerto Rico; If they weren’t there to begin with, they wouldn’t qualify!

      2. “Appointed from the residents of” is pointedly NOT “be at all times a resident of”.

        Definitely. I think Josh misreads this. If PR is made a state, I would guess that Congress would amend the statute, allowing for no immediate appointment. The next appointment for the circuit would likely have to come from PR, though.

        1. Wouldn’t it be just as easy to add a seat there, as to allow for no immediate appointment?

        2. You’re overlooking that Trump could just appoint a Judge from Puerto Rico. BTW it’s not certain that if Puerto Rico becomes a state that their Senators would be Democrats. Politics on the island are different from the politics of Puerto Ricans in say New York.

          1. Republicans could easily send Republican Senators and Representatives to Washington. Jenniffer González and Luis Fortuño are both Republicans. The current governor, Wanda Vázquez Garced, actually endorsed Trump. The island might be in the mood to elect a Democratic-affiliated Governor this time around, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that it would be a solid blue state. Indeed, long-term thinking Republicans should think PR statehood is a good idea if it looks like a traditional red state, say Arizona, isn’t going to be competitive for them for awhile, but PR would.

            1. In fact, the 2016 Republican platform endorses statehood for PR.

              1. I think it’s generally unhealthy for a democracy to have territories like PR. They’re remnants of our dabbling in empire.

                We should either make them states or cut them loose to be independent. It’s not good for us or them to maintain this relationship.

                1. Not to argue too much with something I somewhat agree with, but the dabbling with empire began in 1783 and never really stopped. Overseas colonial administration is newer, but the US has always been imperial.

            2. Long term, PR should do whatever the heck PR wants to do. Whether that be statehood, commonwealth status, or independence. It’s really their decision, and we should respect that.

            3. Presidents of both parties and both party platforms have long supported statehood. A sizable number of Puerto Ricans aren’t so sure.

              The only time a majority of people voted for statehood was in a two stage vote where the first question was do you want to continue as we are and the second one was do you prefer Statehood or Independence. It was a little more complicated than taht but it seems set up to get that result.

              1. 1967: 60.4% commonwealth, 39% statehood, 0.6% independence.

                1993: 48.6% commonwealth, 46.3% statehood, 4.4% independence.

                1998: 50.3% “None of the above”, 46.5% statehood, 2.5% independence, plus some rounding error options.

                2012: Goofy, somewhat rigged, 2 stage process. Approximately 46% commonwealth, 33% statehood, 18% ‘free association’, 3% independence, but elections observers thought that the there were substantial “shenanigans” by the pro-statehood party.

                2017: 97% statehood, as opponents boycotted the referendum, which had only offered two choices: Statehood or independence.

                2020: Straight yes/no on statehood, but of course we won’t have results for week or so.

                Seems each go-round, the pro-statehood party puts a heavier thumb on the scale. But there seems to be a consistent plurality in favor of just maintaining the current arrangements for now, and very little support for independence.

                1. Ah, yes, looking into it, they’re pulling the same scam as 2017: A vote against statehood is supposed to automatically trigger negotiations for independence. Despite a plurality of the population consistently wanting a continuation of the status quo, they’re trying to take it off the table because statehood is less unpopular than independence.

  4. The purpose of this post seems to be more foreboding than anything else. The two allusions to Puerto Rico becoming a state with Senators is a little much.

    This could have been a really small blog. First Circuit Court judge passes away. Likely to be filled soon especially if Trump and/or Republicans lose the White House or Senate which would continue the time honored American tradition of packing the bureaucracy with political appointments during lame duck season.

    1. The two allusions to Puerto Rico becoming a state with Senators is a little much.

      Blackman is convinced that (A) Biden is going to with with majorities in the Senate and House, and (B) that Democrats will then, in mere seconds, stack the court, make DC and Puerto Rico staets, divide California into multiple states, and a host of other things that he fears.

      It’s… odd.

    2. Jimmy is correct. The article & comments concentrate on process and statehood. But isn’t the more impt issue the identity of the new circuit ct justice? It really is a big deal! GOP leadership already has a big lame duck wish list: 2 circuit, 10-12 district, 1-2 Trade, specialty court plus exec branch nominees. Because there’s so few JC hearing dates left, I’m guessing that Trump will nominate one of his recently-confirmed D.P.R judges, like Arias-Marxuach or Carreño-Coll, since they were both recommended by Rep Gonzalez & confirmed by huge margins. Outside chance is Gov Wanda Vazquez. Bonus: nominating a PR jurist will help Trump win FL.

  5. Section 44 provides that “In each circuit (other than the Federal judicial circuit) there shall be at least one circuit judge in regular active service appointed from the residents of each state in that circuit.” There has to be at least one judge in Massachusetts.

    Did you quote the wrong thing? This quotation doesn’t say the First Circuit has to have a judge who resides in Massachusetts. It says the First Circuit has to have a judge who (1) is in regular active service; and (2) was appointed to the circuit from the residents of Massachusetts — that is, he must have resided in Massachusetts when he was appointed.

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