Igartúa, Báez Galib again in court 20 years later over status, presidential votes
By The Star Staff
Like 20 years ago, pro-statehood lawyer Gregorio Igartúa and former Popular Democratic Party Sen. Eudaldo Báez Galib are on opposite sides of the spectrum on the legality of laws that would allow a Yes-No statehood vote in the November election and allow Puerto Rico residents to vote for the U.S. president in the 2024 election.
It is the first time since 2000, the year the commonwealth Supreme Court and the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in separate rulings decided that the presidential vote was illegal in Puerto Rico, that the two constitutional law attorneys found themselves advocating different opinions on the constitutionality of Act 51 of 2020, which enabled the Yes-No statehood status vote, and Act 58 of 2020, which would allow residents of Puerto Rico to vote for a U.S president and vice president in 2024.
Opponents of the laws argued that they lack legal consequence and are symbolic gestures. Báez Galib insists that the precedent he helped create in the case Báez Galib vs State Elections Commission 20 years ago that declared that a proposed vote for president was invalid, should be upheld.
Igartúa said the implementation of Act 51 of 2020 and Act 58 of 2020 seek to advance equality for Puerto Rico as U.S. citizens. The funds allocated to implement the laws support that cause of equality that derives from Puerto Ricans’ condition as U.S. citizens.
Igartúa said that, as a result, the use of public funds to implement the laws was a permissible one under current law. “It is also an allocation to take a corrective action toward solutions to mitigate economic losses resulting from the discriminatory treatment in federal funds,” he said. “Puerto Rico is in an economic stalemate and in bankruptcy court.”
The attorney said the United States is aware of the unequal treatment given to Puerto Rico in the allocation of federal funds and yet the Financial Oversight and Management Board refuses to acknowledge that there is a link between Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory and the prevalent economic crisis.
Igartúa said he has been waiting since 2006 for the Organization of American States to issue a decision regarding Puerto Rico’s status condition and noted that the United States has not been complying with international treaties that force it to guarantee the presidential vote to its citizens.
Laws similar to Act 51 and Act 58, he said, have been implemented by other territories such as Guam, which has a law permitting ballots to include a vote for the U.S. president.
He also said that through the Tennessee Plan, that state was able to eventually achieve statehood as it shook up the congressional leadership.
“The laws that are being challenged in this mandamus and declaratory sentence cannot be evaluated using what is permissible under Puerto Rican law,” he said.
Igartúa said the island Supreme Court must overturn the 2000 precedent set in Báez Galib vs SEC for several reasons, including the fact that it was an undue intervention in a case that was evaluated in federal court. Igartúa successfully took the matter of the vote for president to the U.S. District Court but the decision was overturned on appeal in 2000.
He also advocated to the commonwealth Supreme Court that Puerto Rico is a defacto U.S. territory as it has complied with all the requirements to take the path to statehood.
On the other hand, Báez Galib reminded the top court that it already ruled against the vote for president in the 2000 vote and so did the federal appeals court. He said that in the case Báez Galib vs SEC, the commonwealth Supreme Court declared the presidential vote unconstitutional because money earmarked for it had “no public purpose.”
Regarding the status vote, Báez Galib reminded the top court that the U.S. attorney general declined to allow the disbursement of public funds to pay for the Yes-No referendum, arguing that it was biased in favor of statehood. The oversight board then agreed to disburse the funds to pay for the Yes-No vote.
Báez Galib also noted that the use of public funds to pay for the vote violates the constitutional ban on the use of public funds for political purposes for several reasons. One of them is that Congress has already established a process or mechanism to deal with the political relationship with the United States that requires the U.S. attorney general to give it the green light.
Because the U.S. Justice Department does not support the vote, it will not be taken into account by Congress, he said. Attorney General William Barr said in a letter to media outlets that the vote is misperceived when it states that a vote for the “Yes” statehood option will lead to a transition toward statehood.
Báez Galib also said that the First Circuit Court ruling that banned the presidential vote, which was the case taken by Igartúa, remains the law of the land. That case ruled that residents of Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories did not have voting representation in Congress and were not entitled to electoral votes for president.