• The San Juan Daily Star

Challenge pending before US Supreme Court involves PR legal status

The Supreme Court of the United States

By The Star Staff

The federal government has waived its right to submit a reply on a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court filed by two unions representing public employees and one representing its individual members concerning the legal status of Puerto Rico.

The case against the United States, the Financial Oversight and Management Board (JCF by its Spanish initials), and the commonwealth raises a range of claims under federal constitutional and international law. The claims all concern the legal status of Puerto Rico. The federal district court dismissed them because it concluded that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring them under Article III of the U.S. Constitution. The decision was affirmed by the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston in April.

The two unions are the Hermandad de Empleados del Fondo del Seguro del Estado Inc., and Unión de Médicos de la Corporación del Fondo del Seguro del Estado Corp., and one of their members, Lizbeth Mercado Cordero. The unions have a combined membership of about 2,000 employees, and they have each entered into collective bargaining agreements with Puerto Rico’s State Insurance Fund Corp.

The plaintiffs are requesting a declaration that the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) and all of the oversight board’s actions taken pursuant to it violate the First, Fifth, Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and international laws.

The plaintiffs contend that the lower courts erred in dismissing their suit on Article III lack of standing grounds in part because their complaint had alleged that “the enactment of laws by the commonwealth that were incorporated into the fiscal plans certified by the [JCF]” “invaded” their “pecuniary interest, collective bargaining agreement and property (employment, salaries, bonuses, pensions and health plans).”

They argued that they have standing to seek the relief at issue because PROMESA’s constraints and the JCF’s oversight powers dilute the power of their vote in elections in Puerto Rico due to the limits that PROMESA and the JCF place on the powers of the Puerto Rico government.

In the end, the plaintiffs are contending that the harm they have suffered results from the fact that PROMESA and the oversight board’s actions are preemptive of local law.

In the case before the top court, the plaintiffs said that despite the JCF having broad powers over Puerto Rico as a whole, the JCF’s members were not elected by the people of Puerto Rico, and neither were the federal officials that imposed PROMESA and appointed the members of the JCF.

They said the First Circuit’s determination is contrary to law.

“Although Petitioners’ injury is shared with the citizens/residents of Puerto Rico, it is not shared with the citizens/residents of the States of the Union. In the present case, Congress -- through PROMESA -- rather than the Commonwealth, diluted the voting rights of the residents of Puerto Rico vis-à-vis the residents of the 50 states,” they told the U.S. high court. “Chapter 9 of the Bankruptcy Code, which is the … restructuring statute that applies to the States and municipal governments of the U.S. (except Puerto Rico), does not impair the voting rights of the residents of the States of the Union, since it does not impose an unelected entity such as the [JCF], with the authority to override and sidestep the decisions of the elected government officials of the States.”

They said the illegal colonial regime that exists in Puerto Rico is in violation of the 13th and 15th Amendments and the right to self-determination, and it is an injury that is equally shared only among the residents of Puerto Rico and those similarly situated, which are the residents of the unincorporated territories of the U.S.

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