The Supreme Court of Puerto Rico ruled on August 7 that Pedro Pierluisi's oath as governor last Friday was unconstitutional.
In the opinion emitted by Judge Rafael L. Martínez Torres, which was approved unanimously, the Court ruled in favor of the Senate and as such, Pierluisi will be forced to step down, after serving only five days.
Presiding Judge Maite D. Oronoz Rodríguez; Associate Judges Anabelle Rodríguez Rodríguez, Mildred G. Pabón Charneco, Erick V. Kolthoff Caraballo, Edgardo Rivera García, Roberto Feliberti Cintrón, Luis F. Estrella Martínez, and Ángel Colón Pérez issued Conformity Opinions separately.
"In that entrustment, we are aware of the importance of our decision for government stability and social peace," the ruling reads.
Three days before the vote was cast, the president of the Senate, Thomas Rivera Schatz, introduced a complaint to the Court of First Instances of San Juan denouncing that Pierluisi's ascension before being confirmed in the Senate as Secretary of State was in direct violation of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
“In the same way that the Legislative Branch cannot interfere with the power of the Executive Branch to issue nominations, the latter cannot interfere with the faculty of council and consent of the former; less so during an extraordinary session that has constitutional ranking and which is an inherent faculty of the Legislative Branch once convened,” the lawsuit read.
“The unilateral and ultra vires performance of Pierluisi Urrutia, swearing in the position of governor without complying with the constitutional requirements, represents a clear interference and impairment of the constitutional faculties and powers of the Legislative Branch, in particular, of the Senate of Puerto Rico,” Rivera Schatz added.
Pierluisi's legal team affirmed that act No. 7 of 2005 stated that an an official may succeed the governor without prior confirmation from both legislative bodies.
After the case was delegated to the Supreme Court, Rivera Schatz, on behalf of the Senate, petitioned to declare Act 7-2005 as unconstitutional, arguing that the Constitution indicates that all Cabinet members must be confirmed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate in order to be legitimate.
Supreme Court to determine the future of the Executive Branch
Now that Pierluisi will not continue working as the governor of Puerto Rico, the governor-apparent is Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez, who has already affirmed that she does not want the position.
Constitutionally, the official who would replace the governor would be the Secretary of State, but that position remains vacant. As such, the next official in the line of succession is the secretary of Justice, followed by the secretary of the Treasury (who is below the minimum age for a governor), and the secretary of Education.
Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González shared a press release on her Twitter account in which she stood by the Supreme Court's decision.
"What the Supreme Court did today was to enforce the Constitution - which is the mandate of the people. The Senate did the right thing by taking out the political and partisan debate so that the Supreme Court can make the decision in accordance with the Constitution," the pro-statehood representative said.
"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 the Constitution," González added.
The Constitution is the decree put forth by the people of Puerto Rico. Therefore, when the Supreme Court maintains the faithful observance of the Constitution, the people of Puerto Rico triumph. Read my full statement 👇🏽 pic.twitter.com/tKUijGtgwE— Jenniffer González (@RepJenniffer) August 7, 2019
Meanwhile, Rivera Schatz celebrated the decision, while taking the opportunity to lash out against analysts, news media, and officials whom he believed had either approved of Pierluisi or questioned the president of the Senate.
In a heated Facebook post, which he shared on Twitter, Rivera Schatz said, "to all the experts, political scientists, constitutionalists, analysts, DISRUPTIVE [people], politicians and opportunists who accused me and pointed me out, analyze now and LEARN!"
"To those who lent themselves, for their individual convenience, for all this embarrassing attempt to install an illegitimate government, this will be reflected in the history of Puerto Rico," he added.
For his part, nearly one hour into the Supreme Court's ruling, Pierluisi still hadn't issued any public statements.
Read the Full Opinion (Spanish)