Controversy over legality of Pierluisi as gov moves to Supreme Court
Assures he took office legally but will act prudently until ruling issued
SAN JUAN — “That is academic, that was left behind,” said lawyer Pedro Pierluisi, who was sworn in Friday as Puerto Rico’s governor, about the Senate not voting on his confirmation or expressing any approval of his succession. He and argued that the proper course of action was to wait for the Supreme Court’s decision regarding his legitimacy as governor.
As for who decided he should be governor, Pierluisi reiterated that “I am the only one to whom that decision can be adjudicated.” However, the governor admitted that he received advice, including from lawyers, but he didn’t find it appropriate to divulge details of the conversation because, among other reasons, it includes “conversation between a client and his attorney.”
“I received several writings, there were even articles in the press that analyzed this point [of the succession line] one way or the other. I did communicate with the secretary [of the Justice Department, Wanda Vázquez] but I don’t want to go into detail about what she said to me because I don’t find it necessary,” Pierluisi said, adding that the “secretary did not present any objection to me swearing-in.”
On Monday, the Supreme Court took up the case brought by the Senate and represented by its president, Thomas Rivera Schatz, in which it argued that because Pierluisi’s confirmation process as secretary of State was incomplete when former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s resignation became final, the person who should had taken the oath of office was the Justice secretary.
In arguments presented to the Supreme Court and during Tuesday’s press conference, Pierluisi stressed that Puerto Rico’s Constitution clearly states the secretary of State is first in the line of succession and because he was a vacancy appointment during the legislature’s recess, he did not need the confirmation from both chambers established in the Constitution.
Pierluisi also argued that he cannot be penalized for the Senate’s lack of approval because the upper chamber decided not to act when it closed its special session Aug. 1 without voting on his nomination.
“The Senate, without a reasonable explanation, abdicated its power to enforce said constitutional faculty. In other words, the Senate renounced its right to confirm a secretary of State,” Pierluisi said.
During Monday’s Senate session, Rivera Schatz said during his floor remarks that he postponed the vote on the nomination because Pierluisi asked for a hearing and, in any case, Pierluisi had not submitted the required documents.
Pierluisi said it took him until Friday afternoon to gather all the documents requested by the Senate and argued that by then it would have been moot because he was already going to be sworn in as governor.
When asked why he didn’t submit the documents while having urged the Senate to “ratify my incumbency,” Pierluisi said it would have set a bad precedent because those were for a Senate confirmation and the legislature is not supposed to confirm a governor.
For Pierluisi, the issue of having his incumbency validated in some way is already out of the Senate’s hands because the proper course of action is to wait for the Supreme Court’s decision, which he said he would respect.
While Pierluisi argued that he acted legally, he acknowledged there was “a cloud” over his tenure that needs to be lifted by the Supreme Court, the decision of which, he said, he will wait for before making any major policy decisions or cabinet changes.