Pedro Pierluisi becomes governor of Puerto Rico

Senate hearing for secretary of State nomination Monday up in the air

SAN JUAN — Pedro Pierluisi has become Puerto Rico’s governor after the resignation of Ricardo Rosselló came into effect at 5 p.m. Friday.

In a statement issued minutes before 5 p.m. and after the House of Representatives approved the appointment of Pierluisi as secretary of State, Rosselló said the administration would “proceed in accordance with the current rule of law. Therefore, in accordance with Article 1 of Act No. 7 of July 24, 1952, as amended, the Secretary of State, Pedro R. Pierluisi, will be sworn in as the next Governor of Puerto Rico.”

Rosselló added that the “Constitution also establishes the power to make appointments as long as the Legislature is not in session,” and that under “said legal system” and the governor’s office becoming vacant, “it corresponds that he swears in as the new governor for the remainder of this term.”

His departure comes after weeks of historically massive protests as a result of the island’s outrage at the disclosure of internal communications by Rosselló and a group of his advisers in which they scoffed at supporters and opponents alike.

The leak of those private messages to the press came after the departure Treasury Secretary Raúl Maldonado, who was part of the Telegram app chat group, after alleging that an “institutional mafia” permeated his department and only days after federal authorities arrested two former officials of the Rosselló administration and three outside consultants.

Ordinarily, the succession would not have caused uncertainty because the law and the Constitution provide an order of succession.

However, after the resignation of the Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marín, who also participated in the chat group, and a statement by Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez, the second in the line of succession, saying she was not interested in serving as governor, Rosselló appointed and swore in two-time former Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi as secretary of State to take over the office of the governor.

However, there the debate about whether Pierluisi can take over without being confirmed by both the legislative chambers continues. He received exactly the number of votes for the House to give its “advice and consent,” while the Senate scheduled a special session to hold hearings starting Monday.

Several lawyers believe that Act 7 of 2015, which states that a secretary of State can assume governance without being confirmed by both legislative bodies, is unconstitutional and is a violation of the balance of powers it guarantees.

Rosselló had called a special session Thursday for the legislature to consider Pierluisi’s nomination but Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, who opposes Pierluisi’s appointment, mainly for having provided legal counsel to the island’s FInancial Oversight ad Management Board, convened for Monday a “Total Commission,” which under Senate Regulation establishes a plenary session “with the purpose of achieving, in the consideration of an issue, a freer and informal discussion than that of a deliberative body functioning under its ordinary rules of procedure,” thus all senators can challenge the appointment.