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United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico
Seal of the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico.gif
LocationClemente Ruiz-Nazario United States Courthouse
More locations
Appeals toFirst Circuit
EstablishedSeptember 12, 1966
Chief JudgeRaúl M. Arias-Marxuach
Officers of the court
U.S. AttorneyW. Stephen Muldrow
U.S. MarshalWilmer Ocasio
Clemente Ruiz Nazario United States Courthouse, in Hato Rey, P.R.
Clemente Ruiz Nazario United States Courthouse, in Hato Rey, P.R.

The United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico (in case citations, D.P.R.; Spanish: Tribunal del Distrito de Puerto Rico) is the federal district court whose jurisdiction comprises the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The court is based in San Juan. The main building is the Clemente Ruiz Nazario United States Courthouse located in the Hato Rey district of San Juan. The magistrate judges are located in the adjacent Federico Degetau Federal Building, and several senior district judges hold court at the Jose V. Toledo Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Old San Juan. The old courthouse also houses the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Most appeals from this court are heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which is headquartered in Boston but hears appeals at the Old San Juan courthouse for two sessions each year. Patent claims as well as claims against the U.S. government under the Tucker Act are appealed to the Federal Circuit.

The current United States Attorney is W. Stephen Muldrow.

Scope and relevance

The United States first established a federal court in Puerto Rico under the Foraker Act of 1900. This court was a territorial court, operating within what the Supreme Court would soon define in the Insular Cases as an unincorporated territory of the United States. As such, the court was established under Article IV rather than Article III of the United States Constitution. The Supreme Court of the United States discussed the nature of the court in Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298 (1922). Because the court was a territorial court rather than a full-fledged District Court, its judges did not enjoy Article III protections such as life tenure.

The District Court in Puerto Rico continued to be an Article IV court even after Puerto Rico attained its commonwealth status. However, in 1966, the U.S. Congress conferred life tenure on the federal judges of Puerto Rico, transforming the court into a full-fledged Article III district court with the same status as the other United States District Courts throughout the country.[1] The congressional report on the bill making this change described the change of status as being "appropriate in light of the court's caseload and the conferral of Commonwealth status on Puerto Rico," and also explained:

There is no reason why the U.S. District Judges for the District of Puerto Rico should not be placed in a position of parity as to tenure with all other Federal Judges throughout our judicial system. Moreover, federal litigants in Puerto Rico should not be denied the benefit of judges made independent by life tenure from the pressures of those who might influence his chances of reappointment, which benefits the Constitution guarantees to the litigants in all other Federal Courts. These judges in Puerto Rico have and will have the exacting same heavy responsibilities as all other Federal district judges and, therefore, they should have the same independence, security, and retirement benefits to which all other Federal district judges are entitled.
Federico Degetau Federal Building
Federico Degetau Federal Building

See 1966 U.S.C.C.A.N. 2786-90; see also Examining Bd. of Engineers Architects and Surveyors v. Flores de Otero, 426 U.S. 572, 595 n.26 (1976) ("The reason given for this [law] was that the Federal District Court in Puerto Rico 'is in its jurisdiction, powers, and responsibilities the same as the U.S. district courts in the (several) states'."). This important change in the federal judicial structure of the island was implemented not as a request of the Commonwealth government, but rather at the repeated request of the Judicial Conference of the United States. See Senate Report No. 1504, 1966 U.S.C.C.A.N. 2786-90.

No similar law has been passed for the three insular territories that still have Article IV status, though there have been calls from time to time that these judges also deserve the protection of life tenure.

Current judges

As of January 1, 2022:

# Title Judge Duty station Born Term of service Appointed by
Active Chief Senior
20 Chief Judge Raúl M. Arias-Marxuach San Juan 1967 2019–present 2021–present Trump
16 District Judge Aida Delgado-Colon San Juan 1955 2006–present 2011–2018 G.W. Bush
19 District Judge Pedro Delgado Hernández San Juan 1956 2014–present Obama
21 District Judge Silvia Carreño-Coll San Juan 1963 2020–present Trump
22 District Judge vacant
23 District Judge vacant
24 District Judge vacant
14 Senior Judge Daniel R. Dominguez San Juan 1945 1994–2011 2011–present Clinton
15 Senior Judge Jay A. Garcia-Gregory San Juan 1944 2000–2018 2018–present Clinton
18 Senior Judge Francisco Besosa San Juan 1949 2006–2022 2022–present G.W. Bush

Vacancies and pending nominations

Seat Prior judge's duty station Seat last held by Vacancy reason Date of vacancy Nominee Date of nomination
6 San Juan Carmen Consuelo Cerezo Retirement February 28, 2021 Gina R. Méndez-Miró June 15, 2022
2 Gustavo Gelpí Elevation October 19, 2021 María del R. Antongiorgi-Jordán
4 Francisco Besosa Senior status January 1, 2022 Camille L. Vélez-Rivé

Former judges

# Judge State Born–died Active service Chief Judge Senior status Appointed by Reason for
1 Hiram Rafael Cancio PR 1920–2008 1967–1974 1967–1974 L. Johnson resignation
2 Juan B. Fernandez-Badillo PR 1912–1989 1967–1972 1972–1989 L. Johnson death
3 José Victor Toledo PR 1931–1980 1970–1980 1974–1980 Nixon death
4 Hernan Gregorio Pesquera PR 1924–1982 1972–1982 1980–1982 Nixon death
5 Juan R. Torruella PR 1933–2020 1974–1984 1982–1984 Ford elevation to 1st Cir.
6 Juan Pérez-Giménez PR 1941–2020 1979–2006 1984–1991 2006–2020 Carter death
7 Gilberto Gierbolini-Ortiz PR 1926–2009 1980–1993 1991–1993 1993–2004 Carter retirement
8 Carmen Consuelo Cerezo PR 1940–present 1980–2021 1993–1999 Carter retirement
9 Jaime Pieras Jr. PR 1924–2011 1982–1993 1993–2011 Reagan death
10 Raymond L. Acosta PR 1925–2014 1982–1994 1994–2014 Reagan death
11 Hector Manuel Laffitte PR 1934–present 1983–2005 1999–2004 2005–2007 Reagan retirement
12 José A. Fusté PR 1943–present 1985–2016 2004–2011 Reagan retirement
13 Salvador E. Casellas PR 1935–2017 1994–2005 2005–2017 Clinton death
17 Gustavo Gelpí PR 1965–present 2006–2021 2018–2021 G.W. Bush elevation to 1st Cir.

Chief judges

Chief Judge
Cancio 1967–1974
Toledo 1974–1980
Pesquera 1980–1982
Torruella 1982–1984
Pérez-Giménez 1984–1991
Gierbolini-Ortiz 1991–1993
Cerezo 1993–1999
Laffitte 1999–2004
Fusté 2004–2011
Delgado-Colon 2011–2018
Gelpí 2018–2021
Arias-Marxuach 2021–present

Chief judges have administrative responsibilities with respect to their district court. Unlike the Supreme Court, where one justice is specifically nominated to be chief, the office of chief judge rotates among the district court judges. To be chief, a judge must have been in active service on the court for at least one year, be under the age of 65, and have not previously served as chief judge. A vacancy is filled by the judge highest in seniority among the group of qualified judges. The chief judge serves for a term of seven years or until age 70, whichever occurs first. The age restrictions are waived if no members of the court would otherwise be qualified for the position.

When the office was created in 1948, the chief judge was the longest-serving judge who had not elected to retire on what has since 1958 been known as senior status or declined to serve as chief judge. After August 6, 1959, judges could not become or remain chief after turning 70 years old. The current rules have been in operation since October 1, 1982.

Succession of seats

Article IV judges

Judges who served on the Court from 1900 to 1966, before it became an Article III court, were:

During this period, judges for the District of Puerto Rico were appointed by the president for 4-year terms until 1938, and thereafter for 8-year terms. The court statutorily comprised a single judge until 1961, when a second judgeship was authorized by Congress, although the position was not actually filled until 1965. Until the 1950s, when the District Court judgeship was vacant, when the judge was away from Puerto Rico, or when the court's docket became overly backlogged, sitting judges of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico were designated to act as judges of the federal court.

Judge Ruiz-Nazario, appointed by President Harry Truman in 1952, was the first Puerto Rican to serve as a judge of Puerto Rico's federal court.

See also


  1. ^ Public Law 89-571, 80 Stat. 764.