Saturday, September 24, 2022

Puerto Rico Gov. to Testify Before UN on Island Colonialism

By on June 9, 2016

SAN JUAN–Gov. Alejandro García Padilla said Thursday he would testify before the U.N. Decolonization Committee hearing later this month to defend the island’s self-government before the international community.

While the governor said he believes the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Sánchez Valle case does not hinder the local government’s powers, it is wrong because it states that local sovereignty emanates from Congress and not from the people of Puerto Rico.

In this April 30, 2015, photo, Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro García Padilla delivers his budget address for the next fiscal year at the Capitol building in San Juan. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo, File)

Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro García Padilla (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo, File)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Puerto Rico remains a U.S. territory without the independent powers of a sovereign state when it comes to enforcement of a criminal law. Therefore, it cannot prosecute individuals for the same crimes for which they were convicted by a federal court because it would constitute double jeopardy.

The justices’ 6-2 ruling on the Puerto Rico v. Sánchez Valle case says Congress is the ultimate source of the island’s legal power even though Puerto Rico has its own constitution.

The governor said the opinion is contradictory because while it recognizes the island’s self-government, it said it comes from Congress sovereignty and not the people of Puerto Rico.

“This stance must be clarified because in the middle of the 21rst Century, it is unacceptable for the United States, for the international community and for Puerto Rico to have its political sovereignty depend upon another’s Legislature even if it has to do with criminal prosecution of its citizens,” he said.

Garcia Padilla said the government is obligated to evaluate the political consequences of the ruling and defend Puerto Rico’s self-government before the international community.

The governor said he agrees with the dissenting opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer, who was joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

“The determination of the Supreme Court is limited to a historical analysis and applies to the topic of double jeopardy but does not hinder current political autonomy. Nonetheless, from a technical-legal standpoint, I concur with the dissident opinion of Justice (Stephen) Breyer and Justice (Sonia) Sotomayor,” he said.

Breyer, in the opinion, wrote that he does not believe that Puerto Rico and the federal government share the same source of power—namely, the U. S. Congress—because the historical context shows that the United States intended to change the nature of its relationship with Puerto Rico by granting it self-government.

“I do not believe, as the majority seems to believe, that the double jeopardy question can be answered simply by tracing Puerto Rico’s current legislative powers back to Congress’ enactment of Public Law 600 and calling the Congress that enacted that law the “source” of the island’s criminal-enforcement authority,” Breyer’s opinion stated.

“That is because—as with the Philippines, new States, and the Indian tribes—congressional activity and other historic circumstances can combine to establish a new source of power. We therefore must consider Public Law 600 in the broader context of Puerto Rico’s history. Only through that lens can we decide whether the Commonwealth, between the years 1950 and 1952, gained sufficient sovereign authority to become the “source” of power behind its own criminal laws,” he said.

Breyer added that in enacting Law 600, the Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act determined that the “political status” of Puerto Rico would for double jeopardy purposes subsequently encompass the sovereign authority to enact and enforce— pursuant to its own powers—its own criminal laws.

He also noted that the timing of Public Law 600’s enactment suggests that Congress intended it to work a significant change in the nature of Puerto Rico’s political status. Prior to 1950, Puerto Rico was initially subject to the Foraker Act, which provided the Federal Government with virtually complete control of the island’s affairs.

On the other hand,  U.S. attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez said the United States Attorney’s Office and the Puerto Rico Department of Justice have had an excellent relationship throughout her tenure as United States Attorney. “As in any good relationship, excellent communication has been the key to our success. Our office will continue to work together with the Puerto Rico Department of Justice to determine, whenever there is concurrent jurisdiction, what cases should be charged in federal court and what cases should be charged in state court.  As always, the goal of state and federal criminal prosecutions will be that justice be served for Puerto Rico,” she said.  

You must be logged in to post a comment Login