• The San Juan Daily Star

Senate president files suit in top court over SEC appointments

Senate President José Luis Dalmau Santiago

By John McPhaul

Senate President José Luis Dalmau Santiago filed a lawsuit in San Juan Superior Court on Thursday in which he questioned the constitutional validity of leaving the appointment and confirmation of the chairman and alternate chairman of the State Elections Commission (SEC) in the hands of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court.

“The Puerto Rican constitutional design clearly establishes that there are functions or responsibilities that are exclusive to each of the three branches that make up our government. The executive branch has the sole responsibility of appointing people to positions in the executive branch. As part of the balance of powers, it is then in the hands of the Legislative Assembly to provide its advice and consent to those appointments made by the governor. In other words, in the process of appointing people to positions in the government, the Constitution does not grant any particular function to the courts, beyond settling differences between the executive and legislative branches,” Dalmau Santiago said. “Therefore, I have filed an action to challenge the validity of a provision of the electoral law in Puerto Rico that gives powers of both the executive and legislative branches to the court and leaves in the hands of only one of the constitutional powers all the functions that have been divided among the three to avoid an unjustified concentration of power.”

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia recently nominated judges Jorge Rafael Rivera Rueda as SEC chairman and Edgar S. Figueroa Vázquez as alternate chairman.

Dalmau Santiago said he would request the certification of the claim on Thursday so that it could be addressed directly by the Supreme Court.

The judicial action, filed against the Supreme Court itself and the government of Puerto Rico, requests that the court determine the unconstitutionality of the aforementioned provisions of an article in the electoral code.

The lawsuit states “that the coexistence of these branches of government depend on a delicate system of checks and balances that aims to generate a dynamic balance between coordinated powers of equal rank to avoid the concentration of power in one of them.”

“This case tries to defend the Constitution of Puerto Rico and to maintain the functions that are exclusive to each branch of government,” the Senate president said. “To remove the constitutional responsibility to appoint from the executive is to undermine that delicate balance that allows our government to function in an orderly fashion. Likewise, it occurs if we allow a single constitutional power to have the power not only to appoint, but to confirm members who are going to exercise functions in other constitutional powers. We are leaving the Supreme Court the exclusive power to appoint and consent to such appointments, while retaining its power to review the decisions made in the future by the chairman and alternate chairman of the State Elections Commission. There is simply no place for that in the Constitution.”

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