Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995
Félix Córdova Dávila was born in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico on November 20, 1878. He received his early education in Manati, Puerto Rico, and continued his education in Washington, D.C. at the National University Law School, from which he graduated in 1903. That same year he was admitted to the bar and began a law practice in San Juan, Puerto Rico. From 1904 to 1917 he served in various posts in the Puerto Rican judiciary: judge of the Municipal Court of Caguas (1904), judge of the Municipal Court of Manati (1904-1908), judge of the District Court of Guayama (1908-1910), judge of the District Court of Arecibo (1910-1911), and judge of the District Court of San Juan (1911-1917). In 1908 he became a candidate for the Puerto Rico House of Delegates, but he declined the nomination to serve as district attorney for the district of Aguadilla.
In 1916 Córdova Dávila was elected Resident Commissioner to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Unionist and was reelected three times. During his tenure as Resident Commissioner he served on the Committee on Insular Affairs. One of his major tasks was to extend certain laws and benefits that were already in place in the United States--such as laws relating to vocational education, construction of rural post roads, and benefits for the welfare of infants and mothers--to Puerto Rico.
Each Congress Córdova Dávila submitted bills to amend the Organic Act of Puerto Rico, allowing for a civil government, giving the Island more self-government, and enabling the people to write their own constitution. These bills were referred to various committees, but no changes in the Organic Act were made. He also worked to allow for the election of the governor of Puerto Rico by popular vote. The bill he proposed would have given a Puerto Rican-elected governor the power to appoint a Cabinet and chiefs for each department. On December 17, 1923, he spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on this issue and again on February 3, 1924. Although Córdova Dávila's proposal had support in the House, it was defeated because of the opposition voiced by John W. Weeks, the Secretary of War. Córdova Dávila supported a duty on coffee imported into Puerto Rico to discourage its immediate exportation into the continental U.S.
When the issue of women's suffrage came up for consideration by the Puerto Rican Legislature, Córdova Dávila supported reading and writing qualifications for voting without regard to sex, thereby giving literate women the right to vote. He did not agree with the Puerto Rican Women's Voters Association, who supported full suffrage and wanted the U.S. Congress to settle the issue. Córdova Dávila thought Puerto Rico had the right to legislate its local affairs and did not bring up the issue in Congress.
In 1926 Córdova Dávila, a Unionist, opposed the establishment of a coalition between the Unionist Party and the Republican Party. A disagreement over the issue developed with Antonio R. Barceló, the leader of the Unionist Party, that in turn resulted in Córdova Dávila's dismissal from the Unionist Party. He continued serving as Resident Commissioner until April 11, 1932, when he resigned upon his appointment to be associate justice of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, a position which he held until his death in Condado, San Juan County, Puerto Rico on December 3, 1938.
For further reading:
Clark, Truman R. Puerto Rico and the United States, 1917-1933. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1975.
Figueroa, Javier. Diccionario histórico biográfico. Madrid: Ediciones R Madrid, 1976.
Rosa-Nieves, Cesáreo and Esther M. Melón. Biografías puertorriqueñas: Perfil histórico de un pueblo. Sharon, Connecticut: Troutman Press, 1970.