Supreme Court rules against Puerto Rican journalists seeking records from financial oversight board

WASHINGTON NEWS

May 11, 2023

In a significant ruling on Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision, denied the request of the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, an organization of Puerto Rican journalists, for access to documents from the financial oversight board responsible for managing the territory’s bankruptcy. The court's decision reverses a previous ruling by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which had favored the journalists' group.

The legal dispute revolves around the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), passed by Congress in 2016, which established a financial control board to address Puerto Rico's fiscal crisis and debt restructuring. The journalists sought various documents, including communications between the board's members and officials from both the United States and Puerto Rico.

The oversight board has argued that it functions as part of the Puerto Rican government and, therefore, should be shielded from federal lawsuits under sovereign immunity. However, the 1st Circuit had ruled that PROMESA removed this immunity, allowing the journalists' claims to proceed.

Writing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan emphasized that for the board to be stripped of sovereign immunity, Congress must explicitly state so. According to Kagan, PROMESA does not clearly indicate that Congress intended to deprive the oversight board of this immunity.

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from the majority opinion.

The decision has stirred reactions from various quarters, with Lourdes Rosado, the president of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, a civil rights advocacy group, expressing concern. In a statement, Rosado noted that the court's ruling enables the oversight board to withhold crucial information about its decisions and actions, impacting Puerto Rico's economy and the lives of its citizens.

The legal battle highlights the complex dynamics between federal oversight and local autonomy, particularly in the context of Puerto Rico's financial struggles. The oversight board, while charged with addressing economic challenges, is also subject to questions about transparency and accountability.

As the repercussions of this Supreme Court decision unfold, it raises broader questions about the balance of power between federal and local entities and the accessibility of information crucial to understanding and addressing Puerto Rico's economic situation. The ruling may also fuel ongoing conversations about the autonomy of territories in financial distress and the mechanisms in place to ensure responsible governance.

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Miguel Rivera Author

Miguel Rivera, dedicated Puerto Rican journalist, passionately tells stories, amplifying voices, fostering change, and connecting communities through insightful reporting.

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