Several weeks after Former Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello resigned following a mass protest movement dedicated to ousting him, the commonwealth’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that the oath of office given to his handpicked successor was unconstitutional, clearing the for Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez Garced to become the island’s next governor.
The unanimous decision, according to CNN, found that last week’s swearing in of Pedro Pierluisi was unconstitutional because he hadn’t been confirmed as secretary of state (the island’s legislature was in recess and thus couldn’t vote to confirm him).
If Pierluisi had been confirmed, he would have been constitutionally next in line to become governor. But since he wasn’t, the line of succession goes next to Vazquez Garced.
The ruling will take effect at 5 pm Wednesday to “ensure an orderly succession.”
The legal challenge was brought by Senate president Thomas Rivera Schatz, a rival of Rosselló’s who reportedly has his sights on winning the governorship one day.
The ruling is just one element of the infighting that has gripped Rosselló’s New Progressive Party. The ruling also raises the prospect of deepening political turmoil, since neither candidate is widely supported by Puerto Rico’s population.
Pierluisi, 60, is a corporate lawyer for O’Neill & Borges, a law firm in San Juan that represents the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico – the oversight body created by Congress in 2016 to help manage PR’s financial crisis. Pierluisi’s brother-in-law is the head of the board, known by the nickname la Junta on the island. He has also been targeted by the same protest movement that successfully ousted Rossello once a cache of lewd text messages sent between the island’s top officials surfaced earlier this year.
One of the more popular chants during the protest movement was “Ricky renuncia y llévate a la Junta” – that is, “Ricky resign and take the Junta with you.”
Pierluisi is a former resident commissioner for Puerto Rico – the island’s sole non-voting representative in Congress, serving from 2009-2017. He also previously served as secretary of justice under former Gov. Pedro Rosselló, Ricardo’s father.
In a statement released late last month, Vázquez Garced said she didn’t want to serve as governor.
Me reitero, no tengo interés en ocupar el puesto de Gobernadora. Es un dictamen Constitucional. Espero que el señor Gobernador identifique y someta un candidato para el puesto de Secretario/a de Estado antes del 2 de agosto y así se lo he manifestado.
— Lcda Wanda Vázquez Garced (@wandavazquezg) July 28, 2019
After the ruling, she released the following statement
Declaración de la Secretaria de Justicia, Wanda Vázquez Garced: pic.twitter.com/AHK1hdryZq
— Lcda Wanda Vázquez Garced (@wandavazquezg) August 7, 2019
She has been justice minister since 2017 and is a political ally of Rossello.