Puerto Rico v. Sánchez Valle began as a local criminal matter in Puerto Rico, and exploded into a landmark constitutional case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Court is faced with one central question: is Puerto Rico a U.S. territory, or is it a sovereign nation? This question is the heart of Puerto Rico v. Sánchez Valle. It is because of this question, that the Supreme Court felt compelled to hear the case. And now the Court must answer it.
The case involves Luís Sánchez Valle and Gómez Vásquez, who pleaded guilty to federal gun charges – and then asserted that they could not be prosecuted again for the same crimes, in the local courts of Puerto Rico, because this would violate the “double jeopardy clause” in the Fifth Amendment of the US constitution.
If Puerto Rico is only a US territory, then its court system does not have the right to try Sánchez Valle a second time. If Puerto Rico is “sovereign,” then it does have the right to try him separately, within its own sovereign court system.
Efrén Rivera Ramos, a law professor and former dean of the University of Puerto Rico Law School, recognizes the significance of Puerto Rico v. Sánchez Valle. According to Ramos, if the Court agrees with the “double jeopardy” defense, “That will make it very difficult for Commonwealth advocates to keep saying that in 1952 Puerto Rico became something other than a plain territory of the United States.”
However, despite the clarity of this case, two Supreme Court Justices are already offering “weasel language.”
Justice Breyer urged the court to “limit its decision to the context of double jeopardy.” That is as ridiculous, as a doctor who tells his patient “you have diabetes…but only in your left hand.”
Justice Kennedy said there might be “varieties of sovereignty.” This is as sensible as the notion of a “Free Associated State” (Estado Libre Asociado) which is not free, not a state, and not associated – since it is owned.
The U.S. Supreme Court cannot accept a case that is entirely based on the issue of Puerto Rico’s territorial status, and then render a decision which avoids the territorial issue.
Justice Sotomayor must not allow this. If there ever was a reason for Sonia Sotomayor to be on this Supreme Court, this case is it.
After 118 years, it is time to end the sophistry. After 118 years, the very least that Puerto Rico is entitled to, is a straight answer.
Answer the question.
Is Puerto Rico a U.S. territory…yes or no?
For a history of the War Against All Puerto Ricans, read the book…
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