José A. Cabranes was appointed a judge of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1994. At the time of his appointment, he was chief judge of the District Court for the District of Connecticut, a court to which he was appointed in 1979. In August 2013, he was appointed by the chief justice of the United States to serve also a seven-year term on the three-judge United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review.
Cabranes was born in 1940 in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, into a family of educators; both his mother and father were originally school teachers. His parents were part of the first generation of Puerto Ricans educated under the American flag, following the Spanish-American War (1898). Born and reared in rural hamlets, they were educated in the public schools of Puerto Rico in the early decades of the twentieth century, and later at the newly- founded University of Puerto Rico. His father, Manuel Cabranes, was also one of the island’s first professionally-trained social workers. Manuel Cabranes undertook advanced studies in social work at Fordham University in the early 1930s, and, upon returning to the island, helped found its system of probation and parole, later serving as the chief probation officer of the District Court for the District of Puerto Rico.
José Cabranes moved with his family to the South Bronx at the age of five, when his father was recruited to direct a settlement house there (Melrose House); the settlement house had served Jewish immigrants for decades and, after the Second World War, was increasingly devoted to helping Puerto Rican newcomers who, as U.S. citizens, freely migrated in large numbers to the mainland after the war. Manuel Cabranes later headed the Government of Puerto Rico’s Office in New York City and then served in the municipal administrations of New York City Mayors Vincent R. Impelliteri and Robert F. Wagner. His mother, Carmen López Cabranes, was production editor of the journals of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in New York.
After attending public schools in New York City, José Cabranes graduated from Columbia College (A.B. 1961), Yale Law School (J.D. 1965) and the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England (M.Litt. in International Law, 1967). He studied at Cambridge under a Kellett Research Fellowship from Columbia College and the Humanitarian Trust Studentship in Public International Law awarded by the Faculty Board of Law of the University of Cambridge.
Cabranes was serving as general counsel of Yale University when appointed to the federal bench in 1979; he was the first Puerto Rican appointed to the federal bench in the continental United States. Previously he had practiced in a New York City law firm; taught administrative law, conflicts of law and international human rights law on the full-time faculty of Rutgers University Law School and courses on the law of westward expansion and international human rights on the adjunct faculty of Yale Law School; and served as special counsel to the governor of Puerto Rico and as head of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico’s office in Washington, D.C. He is the author of CITIZENSHIP AND THE AMERICAN EMPIRE (Yale University Press, 1979), a legislative history of the United States citizenship of the people of Puerto Rico, and co-author (with Kate Stith) of FEAR OF JUDGING: SENTENCING GUIDELINES IN THE FEDERAL COURTS (University of Chicago Press, 1998) (Certificate of Merit of the American Bar Association, 1999), and articles in various law journals.
Cabranes’s principal avocational activity after his appointment to the federal bench has been university trusteeship. He served successively as a trustee of Colgate University from 1981 to 1989, and at the two universities of which he is a graduate: as a successor trustee of Yale University (Fellow of the Yale Corporation) from 1987 to 1999 and as a trustee of Columbia University from 2000 to 2012. (At Yale he was the first Roman Catholic to serve on the university’s governing board.) He has been elected a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Law Institute, and as a fellow of the American Bar Foundation.
In 1988, Cabranes was one of five federal judges appointed by Chief Justice Rehnquist to the 15-member Federal Courts Study Committee created by Act of Congress “to examine problems facing the Federal courts and develop a long-range plan for the future of the Federal judiciary.”1
He was the recipient of the Learned Hand Medal for Excellence in Federal Jurisprudence of the Federal Bar Council in 2000.
Before his appointment to the federal bench, Cabranes served as chairman of the Board of Directors of two major Hispanic civil rights organizations: Aspira of New York, an educational agency helping inner-city Hispanic youth prepare for college, and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (now LatinoJustice), of which he was a founding member.
Cabranes is married to Kate Stith, a former federal prosecutor in New York who is the Lafayette S. Foster Professor of Law at Yale Law School. Kate Stith is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School and served for more than a decade as a Dartmouth trustee. She and Cabranes are the parents of four children: Jennifer Cabranes Braceras, a lawyer in Massachusetts, and Amy Cabranes, a development professional in Los Angeles, both born to José Cabranes’s first marriage, to Susan Feibush; Alejo Cabranes, a lawyer in New York City, and Benjamin José Cabranes, a recent graduate of Dartmouth College also residing in New York.
1. Pub. L. No. 100-702, 102 Stat. 4644 (1988) (codified at 28 U.S.C.A. § 331).