Sunday, August 18, 2019

Puerto Rico Supreme Court rules Pierluisi’s swearing-in as governor unconstitutional

By on August 7, 2019

Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez to be sworn in

By José Alvarado and Limarys Suárez Torres

SAN JUAN — The Puerto Rico Supreme Court gave Gov. Pedro Pierluisi until 5 p.m. Wednesday to abandon the La Fortaleza governor’s mansion after the island’s highest court ruled his swearing-in Friday was unconstitutional.

In a unanimous decision that was made public at 1 p.m., the court declared unconstitutional the 2005 amendment to Act 7 of 1952, allowing a secretary of state appointed during a legislative recess to become governor without the need to be confirmed by both chambers of the commonwealth’s Legislature.

The ruling states that Pierluisi has until 5 p.m. to file a reconsideration of the ruling.

The court’s action opens the way for Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez to become the next governor, given that she is next in the line of succession as established by the commonwealth’s Constitution.

“I will abide by said determination to comply with the succession order established by the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in Article IV, Section 7, and Act No. 7 of July 24, 1952, as amended, known as the ‘Law to Provide the Order of Succession and Substitution for the Office of Governor,’ Vázquez said in a statement released shortly after the Judicial Branch Press Office released the court’s ruling.

Pierluisi, who had been appointed as secretary of State by former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, took over the governor’s office Friday at 5:01 p.m. based on that amendment, even though he had only been confirmed as secretary of State by the House of Representatives the same day.

The Senate planned to consider his confirmation as secretary of state Monday, but canceled the vote after Pierluisi declined to testify. Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz proceeded to file a lawsuit challenging Pierluisi’s claim to the governorship in San Juan Superior Court. The island’s highest court immediately took up the case given its constitutional importance.

After swearing-in Aug. 2, Pierluisi pledged to resign if the Senate voted against his confirmation. The Senate ended its special session Monday without a vote after Rivera Schatz said Pierluisi had only five of the 15 votes needed to be confirmed.

Understanding that the Senate did not consider his confirmation, Pierluisi conditioned his exit from La Fortaleza on a ruling from the Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court of Puerto Rico issued an opinion today in the case of the Senate of Puerto Rico v. Hon. Pedro Pierluisi, in which it unanimously determined as unconstitutional the clause that added Act No. 7-2005 to article 1 of Act No. 7 of July 24, 1952, that allows a Secretary of State to become Governor without having to be confirmed by both legislative chambers,” states the ruling issued by Associate Justice Rafael L. Martínez Torres, and with which the other eight high court justices concurred.

The Senate leader quickly reacted to the ruling with his characteristic bluntness.

“Unanimous, 9-0. With absolute legitimacy we will seek true peace and stability,” Rivera Schatz said. “Now it’s when this is truly over and that detestable group from the chat that lied, mocked, contrived, conspired, violated the law and betrayed Puerto Rico will leave the government.”

Rivera Schatz, who is the ruling New Progressive Party’ acting president, added that “now we will continue the work agenda towards a better Puerto Rico with [Resident Commissioner] Jenniffer González Colón and all of the leadership of the New Progressive Party.”

González Colón reportedly is the consensus candidate for governor agreed upon between Schatz and House Speaker Carlos Johnny Méndez. The deal purportedly calls for Vázquez to nominate the resident commissioner as secretary of State. Both legislative chambers would confirm her, and then the Justice chief would resign.

The resident commissioner, who is the NPP’s vice president, praised the court ruling, saying, the “sense of stability cannot be restored, nor can credibility be restored at the expense of institutionally.”

“It is important to restore credibility in Washington by showing that we are able to govern ourselves according to our own Constitution,” she said.