San Juan, Puerto Rico — The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) issued a decision in the case of the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) against the Fiscal Control Board Thursday, based on the premise that the Board has sovereign immunity, in a controversy that involved the Puerto Rican people’s right of access to public information.
“The Board refuses to disclose the public documents requested and the U.S. Supreme Court today allows this. It is a weak judicial ruling, because its main and crucial argument is to assume that the Board has immunity, without deciding or going into the merits of whether it really has that protection. The consequences of this Supreme Court decision are perverse for the people of Puerto Rico,” said Carla Minet, executive director of the CPI.
SCOTUS’s decision effectively gives the Board the power not to comply with the fundamental right that Puerto Rico citizens have to know what is happening in their government. This is unprecedented even for the government of the United States. This decision only applies to the Board and not to the Government of Puerto Rico or any of its instrumentalities, which continue to be subject to the constitutional right of access to information recognized by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court more than 40 years ago.
The CPI’s legal team is evaluating the implications and possible actions.
“We strongly reject the decision issued by the U.S. Supreme Court that tramples on the rights of Puerto Ricans. We’re facing yet another chapter of the colonial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States, this time, hindering government transparency and accountability in Puerto Rico as a result,” Minet added.
The co-founder of the CPI and director of the Transparency Program, Oscar Serrano, said: “In the PROMESA (Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act) timeline, this decision is further proof of the United States’ intention to validate and defend the colonial nature of Puerto Rico and the Board, without distinction of a political party. PROMESA was an action by Democrats and Republicans, and the majority votes in this decision include both Republican and Democratic-appointed justices, as well as the only Puerto Rican justice in the Supreme Court.”
The CPI sued the Board in 2017 to gain access to public information, including its communications with the government of Puerto Rico and the United States, signed contracts, minutes, and financial reports submitted or received by members of the Fiscal Board, among others.
After the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled in favor of the CPI, the Board turned to the SCOTUS, which agreed to hear the case.
The Board argues that, as part of the Government of Puerto Rico, it enjoys “sovereign immunity,” which allows it not to submit to the right to access information in Puerto Rico. This legal concept allows states, the U.S. Government and the governments of other countries to prevent their citizens from suing them in their courts or being sued in foreign courts, except when it is waived. The latter often occurs when laws are made that allow citizens to sue the government over certain issues.
The right of access to information is an area in which the Government of Puerto Rico has waived its immunity, so citizens can sue the government to request public documents in Puerto Rico courts.