U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court considers Puerto Rico's sovereignty and double jeopardy

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Questions about Puerto Rico’s sovereignty were before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday as justices considered whether double jeopardy barred Puerto Rico from trying two defendants prosecuted on federal gun crimes charges.

The gun defendants claim Puerto Rico is not a separate sovereign that can retry them under its own laws, the New York Times, USA Today and SCOTUSblog report.

The Obama administration took the position that Puerto Rico is a territory without independent sovereignty, a change in position from a brief filed two decades ago, its brief points out.

A lawyer for Puerto Rico, Christopher Landau, maintained that Puerto Rico has additional autonomy under its 1952 Constitution, enacted as a result of Congress’ invitation. “Please do not take the Constitution of Puerto Rico away from the people of Puerto Rico,” he said.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy remarked on a possible middle ground, suggesting there could be varieties of sovereignty. “Has there been any suggestion by commentators, and so forth, that this whole inquiry of sovereignty and source of power is a little bit misplaced?” he asked.

The case is Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle.

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