The upper house of Puerto Rico’s ‘Commonwealth’ party-controlled legislature passed a resolution late last week that specifically contradicts the Federal-territorial agreement in 1952 on the insular constitution.
The constitution was drafted by a local convention in 1952 authorized by a 1950 Federal law that required Puerto Rico referendum approval and subsequent Federal approval of the constitution. A 1952 Federal law approved the constitution subject to the territory accepting several changes and the condition that any amendments to the constitution after it took effect be consistent with the Federal laws authorizing and approving the constitution and the U.S. Constitution. Puerto Rico’s constitutional convention formally accepted the changes and the governor of the territory at the time — who was the founder of the ‘Commonwealth’ party — put the constitution into effect also accepting the Federally-required changes.
On Thursday, Puerto Rico’s Senate passed a resolution declaring that it considers one of the provisions discarded in the constitutions ultimate approval to be in “effect”.
The resolution also asserts that the disapproved section of the draft constitution it discussed creates “rights” that can be used as the basis for claims against the insular government. Included are “rights” to:
- a job;
- “adequate” food, housing, clothing, medical care, and child care; and
- “the fairest distribution of economic output.”
The resolution is to be sent to members of Congress and the President of the U.S. and others.
The resolution defies the Federal-territorial agreement on the constitution but it also underscores Puerto Rico’s territory status. It does not actually put the unapproved section of the constitution into effect or begin an effort to get the Federal disapproval reversed. Additionally, the Commonwealth government has considered the section to not be in effect for 61 years.
Some leaders of the ‘Commonwealth’ party argue that the agreement on the Constitution ended the U.S. Congress’ total authority to govern Puerto Rico except to the extent that the fundamental rights of individuals would be violated and created a “Commonwealth status.”
Other party leaders, however, now accept the uniform and consistent position of the U.S. Government that the U.S. Constitution’s Territory Clause continues to apply and the 1950-2 Federal-territorial agreement only let Puerto Rico exercise self-government over local affairs.
A territory that became a U.S. State or a nation would be able to change its constitution in ways that the U.S. Government had not been willing to approve in granting statehood or nationhood. Puerto Rico cannot.
The resolution appears to have been carefully drafted to live within ultimate Federal authority while suggesting that it defies that power.
The resolution is also curious since so many Puerto Ricans cannot find a job and the territory’s budget cannot afford additional benefits for individuals. The insular jobless rate was 13.9% at the beginning of last month with so many Puerto Ricans having stopped looking for work in the territory that less than two-fifths of the population is in the workforce and millions have moved to a State for a job. The Commonwealth government has had to borrow so much money to operate that it almost at the point at which it will be impossible to borrow more.