Pedro Pierluisi’s Ascent to Governor on Hold

Pedro Pierluisi was sworn in as Governor of Puerto Rico as Ricardo Rossello stepped down from the post following weeks of protests.

Complications

When a governor leaves his or her position in Puerto Rico, the constitution says that the Secretary of State will step into that position. Failing the Secretary of State, the Attorney General will be the next in line, followed by the Secretary of Education.

When Rossello announced his intention to vacate his post as governor, the Secretary of State had already left his position, and there was no Secretary of State to step up.

Rossello quickly nominated Pedro Pierluisi, former Resident Commissioner for Puerto Rico, as Secretary of State. Puerto Rico’s House confirmed him, but the Senate did not do so.

Pierluisi accepted the position, while making it clear that he is willing to serve as Governor of Puerto Rico, but not as Secretary of State. If he is not confirmed as Secretary of State, the governorship would go to Wanda Vazquez, who would have to find a new Secretary of State.

Vazquez has publicly stated that she does not want the job.

Who is opposed to Pierluisi as Governor? Thomas Rivera Schatz, President of the Senate,  has filed suit to remove Pierluisi. The mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, has also filed a lawsuit, and is intending to run for Governor in the next election. Senator Eduardo Bhatia and Victoria “Melo” Muñoz have also threatened to go to court in opposition of Pierluisi.

There is ambiguity over the terms of succession for the office of governor, specifically as contained in a 2005 law, and it is expected that this ambiguity will be resolved through the litigation that has commenced.

Rossello said an amendment to the law “states that it will not be necessary for the Secretary of State to have been confirmed to assume governance permanently” because “the constitutional text does not require confirmation and that, in case of emergency, such requirement should not be required.”

Meanwhile, protests continue. Some are insisting that there must be a special election to fill the position of governor.

Who is Pedro Pierluisi?

Pierluisi was born in Puerto Rico and educated at Tulane University and the George Washington University School of Law. He was Attorney General under Governor Pedro Rossello, the most recent governor’s father, in the 1990s.

Pierluisi served as Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, the territory’s only voice in the U.S. Congress, from 2009 to 2017. Running with Luis Fortuno, he won the vote for this position by more than one million votes, the largest lead in history for that position.

As Resident Commissioner, Pierluisi fought for statehood for Puerto Rico, as well as for equal treatment under Medicaid, stronger federal support for law enforcement, and equality in anti-poverty measures like EITC and child tax credits.

He then faced off against Rossello for the governorship but lost in the primary. Since that time, Pierluisi has been in private practice as a lawyer in San Juan. His work has included representation of the PROMESA Financial Oversight and Management Board, an involvement which has led to concern among some in Puerto Rico. The head of the board is also Pierluisi’s brother-in-law.

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