Are determined to use their experience, influence and position to help make your business, organization and world a more inclusive place. They are breaking barriers, and then they come back to help those behind them overcome the same obstacles. They are advising younger students or colleagues, hiring diverse candidates, offering opportunities and ensuring that employees are successful and promoted so that their workplace and communities reflect the wealth and talent of the country's increasingly diverse population.
They are alumni, professors and BU staff of all races, ethnicities, ages and genders, and are "Opening doors" for the next generation.
Juan R. Torruella is the first: a native of Puerto Rico, he is the first Hispanic judge to serve on the US First Circuit Court of Appeals. United States, which receives appeals from the United States District Courts for the districts of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico and Rhode Island.
Torruella (LAW'57), native of Puerto Rico, obtained a Bachelor of Economic Sciences from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1954 and a Juris Doctor from the School of Law of BU. He later obtained a Master of Laws from the Law School of the University of Virginia, a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Puerto Rico and a Master's Degree in Modern European History from the University of Oxford. An expert sailor, Torruella has competed for Puerto Rico in four Olympic sailing events, in 1964, 1968, 1972 and 1976.
He is the author of two books, The Supreme Court and Puerto Rico: The Doctrine of Separation and Inequality (University of Puerto Rico Press, 1985) and Global Intrigue: The Age of War Hispanic American and the rise of the United States to world power (University of Puerto Rico Press, 2007), as well as numerous articles reviewing laws, which hold that our current political and constitutional systems maintain the people of Puerto Rico. "In a subordinate condition ad infinitum, with fewer rights than even foreigners residing in the United States."
Like most of the people interviewed for BU Today of the series " Opening Doors ", Torruella is deeply concerned about issues of equality, equity and social justice, but her criticism is directed mainly in constitutional matters more than in personal cases of discrimination
BU Today: What led you to a career in law?
Torruella: My father, who had always been a role model, suggested that I go to law school, and I thought I would try it since his advice had always been positive and he had taken me to right
Was he also a lawyer?
He was actually a dentist, but later he became a lawyer, after having been a lawyer for five or six years.
How was your experience in LAW?
I remember that I arrived in October, it was so rainy and sad that I almost got on a plane and returned to Puerto Rico. But soon I got excited about law school. I think he was probably the youngest in the class, who had a large component of Korean War veterans. To tell you how different the law school was, I will only mention that there were only 3 women in our freshman class of about 350. I must say that we had some excellent teachers. I remember taking my wife to classes on Saturday mornings Tom Lambert was so good
Did you experience any discrimination at the time, since whether on campus or finding a job after graduation?
I can not really say that I was discriminated against as such. But at that time, it was very difficult to get a job at a law firm in Boston: the legal scenario was controlled by the Brahmin elites, and I suspect that this class despised BU. You really had to have connections, like a relative who worked there, so the chances of getting a job were very small. I remember that in one of the interviews, the only thing they asked me was if I had a camera, so I could take pictures of the accidents. The women, of course, were even worse; Usually they were offered secretarial work, if they were lucky enough to get an interview
So, how did you get a job?
The week I was supposed to go to the Massachusetts Bar, I ended up getting the mumps, so I did not take it. Instead, I returned to Puerto Rico and took the Puerto Rico Bar Association. Then I was hired as a paralegal in the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, which was an excellent postgraduate course for me, since I was able to familiarize myself with the civil law of Puerto Rico, a branch of the Napoleonic Code. At the end of that period, I was hired by the National Labor Relations Board as a trial lawyer, and the labor law was my best topic in BU. I did that for three years and, as things stand, I tried an important case against one of the main newspapers in Puerto Rico and won the case. This resulted in a job offer from the law firm that was my opponent. I spent eight years there, I became a member, and then I decided to go out on my own, what I must say were the best years of my private practice, economically and professionally
In a short time, my success reached me and I had a big company surrounding me, which I had already tried to avoid once. Then I had the opportunity to go to the District Court of the United States for Puerto Rico and I accepted it. I was district judge for 10 exciting years, and then the Court of Appeals opened, and here I am, 34 years later
On the way, did you ever notice any discrimination due to your inheritance?
I can not say that I did it personally, although I have seen many cases in what this continues. I think it continues even more at the highest levels. But without a doubt, I am discriminated against collectively. I think that the fact that Puerto Ricans have been citizens of the United States for 117 years and have no national political representation is an unfortunate example of this collective discrimination. This collective discrimination was implemented by the Insular Cases [a series of 1901 US Supreme Court opinions about the status of US territories acquired in the Spanish-American War] by the same court that Plessy v. Ferguson [separate but equal] and unfortunately, the Supreme Court has been reluctant to apply the principles of equality of Brown v. Puerto Rico US citizens. I find it ironic that I am here, sitting on the second highest court in the United States, deciding issues of national importance, but without having any national political representation. I can not vote for the president and vice president and I do not have a representative with the right to vote in Congress simply because I am a resident of Puerto Rico. The conclusion is that American citizens living in Puerto Rico do not have political equality. It is incredible that in the 21st century, the United States, a nation that fought a war for independence to break its colonial chains, today has what amounts to a colonial empire.
Can you talk about cases where you have seen discrimination that manifests on a personal and individual level?
There are many, but one that comes to mind, because it shows the absurdity with which it is treated Puerto Rico, is a case in which a woman from Puerto Rico lived in Connecticut and received Supplemental Security Income (SSI) because she was incapacitated. When she moved to Puerto Rico, the Social Security Administration interrupted her. In accordance with the SSI statute, he could only receive that income while living in one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia. The government argued that they could not grant these benefits to Puerto Rican residents because it would unbalance the economy of Puerto Rico by putting too much money into their economy. Naturally, I found it incredible that they made such an argument, but I found it even more incredible when it was appealed to the Supreme Court, and that decision was affirmed, and the court adopted this reasoning as part of a "rational" basis test.
Can you mention other examples of this type of discrimination?
Among the most flagrant examples of discrimination against US citizens of Puerto Rico There is the way in which residents of Puerto Rico receive treatment in the Medicare and Medicaid programs, in which they receive a fraction of [what] of their brothers in the United States [receive]. I do not see how in such basic human rights programs, the US citizens of Puerto Rico, who are the most economically vulnerable in the nation, can be treated less favorably than their compatriots on the mainland in the granting of these basic needs.
Of course, this discrimination is only possible because we do not have effective political representation at the national level. Puerto Rico remains in a state of political limbo, which is the main cause of our current economic crisis, much of which can be attributed to the virtually unlimited power of Congress over the citizens of Puerto Rico since 1898. Congress has made us economically incompetent, despite that Puerto Rico has been a source of wealth for US interests since the first day.
There really must be a balance, one that can only be achieved by having political equality, and at this moment there is none. What we need and ask for is equality as American citizens. I think that's what we have the right to have under the Constitution.
So as not to forget, Puerto Rico was the second jurisdiction per capita of victims in the Korean War and 14 in the Vietnam War. The US citizens of Puerto Rico have more than earned the right to place a star number 51 on our national flag.
Do you know alumni, teachers and BU staff who open doors or break barriers on their own? Send an email to John O'Rourke at firstname.lastname@example.org and recommend them for our series "Opening Doors."