Hispanic Heritage Month: Frank Torres

Posted by on Sep 16, 2021 in People and Culture

September 15 to October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States: a time to recognize and celebrate the cultures, contributions, and achievements of the nation’s Hispanic and Latino communities. This week, btw presents Frank Torres, who fought to increase the number of Latinos in the legal profession and to make sure that Hispanic Americans could receive a fair trial.

Who Was He?

Frank Torres was a former justice on the New York State Supreme Court, as well as a former member of the New York State Assembly. Justice Torres spent his entire life and career advocating for greater Hispanic inclusion in the legal profession. Torres reached out to Hispanic high school and college students, to encourage them to study law and apply for judgeships. He also pushed for law firms and judicial screening committees to consider more Hispanic candidates when making new hiring decisions. Torres also fought against voting laws that discriminated against Hispanic Americans.

A Lifelong Legacy

Torres was born in January 1928, in New York City. His parents were from Puerto Rico. His father, Felipe Torres, was also a judge, as well as one of the first Puerto Ricans elected to the New York State Assembly. Torres attended law school at St. John’s University while also working for New York City’s welfare department as an investigator and interviewer. After his graduation in 1955, Torres served as an assistant district attorney in the Bronx borough of New York City. Torres founded the Ponce Bank in New York. It was one of the first banks that served the Hispanic population.

As a New York state legislator in the 1960s, Torres spoke out against English tests for Puerto Rican voters. (These were eliminated by the 1965 Voting Rights Act.) After he lost his re-election campaign, Torres served for fifteen years in New York’s federal Department of Housing and Urban Development office. He became the director of civil rights and equal opportunity. Following in his father’s footsteps, he was appointed to Family Court in 1980. In 1987, he was elected to the State Supreme Court, where he served until 2001. Torres was one of the few Hispanic federal judges in New York at the time, despite the state’s large Hispanic population. He helped found the Latino Judges Association to encourage more representation in the legal profession.

Analisa Torres, one of Frank Torres’ three children, is a federal judge for the Southern District of New York since 2013. Frank Torres passed away from complications of pneumonia in a hospital in New York City in August 2021, at the age of 93.

Dig Deeper Another judge of Puerto Rican descent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, now sits on the United States Supreme Court. She is the first Hispanic American Supreme Court justice. Use Internet resources to learn more about Justice Sotomayor and write a paragraph about what you find.