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Puerto Rico and the United States

Recent Developments

Over the second half of the twentieth century, federal courts spent much time attempting to iron out what the U.S. Supreme Court called the "unique relationship" between the United States and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Federal courts have recognized that by allowing the island to draft its own constitution, Congress intended to afford Puerto Rico the degree of autonomy and independence normally associated with states in the union. Examining Board of Engineers, Architects and Surveyors v. Flores de Otero, 426 U.S. 572, 96 S.Ct. 2264, 49 L.Ed.2d 65 (1976).

Like the federal government's relationship with the 50 states, federal courts have recognized that a dual sovereignty exists between the United States and Puerto Rico. One sphere of power is reserved for the federal government as provided in the U.S. Constitution, and another sphere of power is reserved to the commonwealth as provided by its own constitution. United States v. Gonzalez de Modesti, 145 F.Supp.2d 171 (D.Puerto Rico 2001). Also like the 50 states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is entitled to the full benefits of the ELEVENTH AMENDMENT to the Constitution, which grants states SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY from being sued in federal court without their consent, when the suit is brought by citizens of another state or the citizens of a foreign country. Fernandez v. Chardon, 681 F.2d 42 (1st Cir. 1982).

Unlike residents of the 50 states, Puerto Ricans lack any representation in Congress, other than through the honorary position of resident commissioner in the House of Representatives. Puerto Ricans also lack the right to vote in U.S. presidential elections. On April 5, 2000, 11 Puerto Ricans challenged their disenfranchisement in U.S. presidential elections on grounds that it violated their constitutional rights as U.S. citizens. Finding that the right to vote is inherent in citizenship, the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico declared that U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico would have the right to vote in the 2000 presidential election. Less than a month before the election, however, the First Circuit overturned the district court, ruling that U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico do not have a right to vote in presidential elections unless Puerto Rico becomes a state or the federal Constitution is amended to recognize such a right. Igartua De La Rosa v. United States, 229 F.3d 80 (1st Cir. 2000).

Puerto Rico has held several referenda in the 1980s and 1990s to clarify its status. The last REFERENDUM

In San Juan, members of Puerto Rico's Popular Democratic Party celebrate the rejection of U.S. statehood in the December 1998 referendum.

was held in 1998. Almost 47 percent voted for statehood. Independence and two variants on commonwealth status received nearly 4 percent, combined. Fifty percent voted for "none of the above," which amounted to an ambivalent endorsement for the status quo.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Prohibition Party to Pure theory of lawPuerto Rico and the United States - Historical Background, Puerto Rico Achieves Greater Autonomy, Recent Developments, Further Readings