CreditCreditErika P. Rodriguez for The New York Times

 

NY Times: SAN JUAN, P.R. — The uneasy calm that had settled over Puerto Rico after huge protests brought down one governor and a second one was installed in his place ended on Wednesday when its Supreme Court ruled that the only way to maintain the constitutional order was to swear in the island’s third governor in a week.

In short order after the high court ruling, Pedro R. Pierluisi, who had filled the position since Friday, stepped down. Wanda Vázquez, the former secretary of justice, took the oath as governor, just the second woman to hold the office. And Puerto Rico was thrust into a new period of political tumult over how long the unpopular Ms. Vázquez might remain on the job — and what machinations might be underway to prepare for her possible succession.

After a dizzying month full of remarkable moments, Wednesday’s turn of events might have given Puerto Ricans confidence in their rule of law, but the continuing saga offered little certainty over what the leadership of their troubled government might look like in the coming months.

Chief Justice Maite D. Oronoz Rodríguez called the past few weeks “the most important juncture” in Puerto Rico’s history as a democracy.

[Read: Who is Wanda Vázquez?]

“The summer of 2019 will be remembered as an unprecedented moment in which Puerto Ricans — of all ages, ideologies, backgrounds and creeds — threw themselves into the street to demand more from their government,” she wrote in a concurring opinion issued along with the court’s ruling.

The nine-member court ruled unanimously that Mr. Pierluisi was sworn in on unconstitutional grounds on Friday. The 29-page ruling ordered that a new governor, this time following the constitutional line of succession, assume the office by 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Because the secretary of state post is vacant, the job fell to Ms. Vázquez, 59. With her husband and daughter by her side, she raised her right hand and took the oath inside the Supreme Court in San Juan, the capital.

“We will work together on all that unites us, and we will look for consensus where we disagree,” Ms. Vázquez said in a televised speech late on Wednesday in which she promised to meet with diverse sectors of society to chart a path forward. “The times demand that.”

A career prosecutor with no experience in elective office, she had previously said she did not want the job but would fulfill her constitutional duties. “I will remain focused on resuming the course for our people in an orderly and peaceful fashion,” she added.

But Ms. Vázquez brings her own baggage. She was suspended from office last year after being accused of intervening in a case involving her daughter. When she was the head of the women’s affairs office, feminist groups accused her of being an obstacle to real improvements for women.

ImagePedro R. Pierluisi made no major decisions and issued no executive orders in his brief tenure as governor of Puerto Rico.
CreditErika P. Rodriguez for The New York Times

When Ms. Vázquez arrived at La Fortaleza, the governor’s mansion, in a dark S.U.V., protesters who had gathered not far from the gates could be heard loudly yelling.

“She’s not qualified to be the new governor,” said Yanira Arias, a 47-year-old organizer who demanded Ms. Vázquez’s resignation. “What’s happening now is an expression of discontent over the corruption and lack of authentic answers from a government that is not legislating in favor of the Puerto Rican people.”

In a videotaped message on Facebook, Mr. Pierluisi emphasized that the law he cited to take office had been presumed constitutional until the high court ruled otherwise on Wednesday.

“I want to be clear that the only motivation I have had during this time, as always, has been the well-being of Puerto Rico,” he said, wishing Ms. Vázquez well in her new role. “This is a time when we must all unite for Puerto Rico, leaving behind any partisan, ideological or personal agendas.”

Mr. Pierluisi, a 60-year-old lawyer and the island’s former nonvoting resident commissioner in Congress, said he would continue to serve Puerto Rico, though he did not lay out specific plans.

He had become governor on Friday even though as a new nominee he had not previously been confirmed as secretary of state by both chambers of the Legislative Assembly. Only the House of Representatives approved his recess appointment.

Mr. Pierluisi and his predecessor as governor, Ricardo A. Rosselló, 40, whose resignation became effective at 5 p.m. Friday, had cited a 2005 statute that said the secretary of state did not require legislative confirmation to step in as governor. The Senate sued.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court declared that the portion of the law cited by Mr. Pierluisi was unconstitutional. The rest of the law regarding the line of succession is valid, the court found.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Ángel Colón Pérez likened the way in which Mr. Rosselló had handed over power to Mr. Pierluisi to how a king turns over his throne.

“If a country’s ruler were empowered to choose his successor, or possible successor, without a minimal guarantee of democratic consensus, there would not be much difference between our system of government and a monarchy,” he wrote. “We do not live in a monarchy.”

Legal scholars who had questioned Mr. Pierluisi’s ascent to the governor’s seat from the start praised the ruling and said the fact that it came so quickly signaled that the justices considered the issue clear-cut.

“The Constitution requires the advice and consent of both chambers,” said Yanira Reyes Gil, a constitutional scholar and associate law professor at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico. “It is a basic principle of constitutional law that the Constitution takes precedence.”

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The Puerto Rico Supreme Court in San Juan. Its nine justices ruled unanimously in favor of the Puerto Rico Senate, which asked for a preliminary injunction against Mr. Pierluisi.