Scalia’s Death Affects U.S. Supreme Court Decisions on Puerto Rico
The death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia affects the cases now before the top court, including two very important cases involving Puerto Rico, one on double jeopardy and the other on the validity of the local bankruptcy law.
The U.S. Supreme Court is evaluating whether the Debt Enforcement & Recovery Act, a local bankruptcy law, is pre-empted by federal law. Justices also have before them another case from Puerto Rico, the Sánchez Valle case, in which they must determine if the local Justice Department can try people in court for the same crimes for which they were already convicted in federal court.
Former Popular Democratic Party Sen. Eudaldo Báez Galib, who is a constitutional lawyer and former president of the P.R. Bar Association, said he believes Scalia’s death will impact Puerto Rico favorably.
Báez Galib said in the case of the constitutionality of the local bankruptcy law, he is inclined to believe that Scalia, who was a “strict constructionist,” or a justice who believes the U.S. Constitution should be applied as it is written, would have voted against Puerto Rico.
“[Scalia] would have tried to protect the powers of Congress…. He is also a conservative and traditionally, the right wing movements in the U.S. protect Wall Street investors,” he said.
With Scalia’s passing and Justice Samuel Alito recusing himself from that case because he holds investments in Wall Street, Puerto Rico has a higher chance of validating the local bankruptcy law because the so-called liberal judges will be in the majority, he indicated.
Báez Galib also believes Scalia would have ruled that Puerto Rico is a territory subject to the plenary powers of the U.S. and that the commonwealth cannot prosecute people convicted in federal court because it would violate the double jeopardy clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The former senator, however, believes that based on remarks made by the justices in the Sánchez Valle hearing, they will rule against Puerto Rico, even though Justice Stephen Breyer as First Circuit Judge ruled in favor of the existence of the commonwealth.
While most Supreme Court decisions are unanimous, before Scalia’s death, the top court was divided 5-4 along ideological lines, in favor of conservatives. Now, the top court is evenly split 4-4 between conservatives and liberals.
It should be noted that in a 4-4 split decision, the lower court ruling would be upheld. At the same time, the court may also decide to re-argue a case when the court is back to a full nine-justice bench.
Scalia died over the weekend in Texas of natural causes, apparently a heart attack, according to various reports.
President Barack Obama, who is in his last year of office, has said he will nominate a possible successor and try to get the U.S. Senate to approve the nomination. However, leaders of the Republican-controlled Senate have said they will block any nominee, as they believe the nomination should be made by the next president, whoever that may be.