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News Analysis

Cases Still Alive, Kicking in Fight to Kill Status Vote

Federal judge takes jurisdiction in PDP lawsuit

by Marty Gerard Delfin

October 15, 1998
©Copyright 1998 The San Juan Star

Opponents to the Dec. 13 plebiscite have already lost two court battles in their fight to kill the status vote but their cases are still alive and kicking.

On Tuesday, a federal judge assumed jurisdiction in the lawsuit filed by the Popular Democratic Party against the Rosselló administration's scheduled plebiscite. Another federal judge assumed jurisdiction last week in a separate case against the electoral event filed by former New Progressive Party Sen. Nicolás Nogueras.

The PDP was in meeting Wednesday to decide whether to rush an appeal before the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston or wait until after today's decision by their governing board on what the party will do in the plebiscite.

U.S. District Judge Juan Pérez Giménez ruled late Tuesday that he has jurisdiction because arguments lodged by the PDP raise federal constitutional questions.

The PDP wanted to keep the case out of federal court in opposition to the move by the Justice Department, which requested jurisdiction.

At its meeting today, the PDP will determine whether to boycott the plebiscite or support the "none of the above", or fifth category on the ballot.

Acevedo Vilá has said that regardless of what they decide to do in the plebiscite, the challenge in court against the plebiscite law will continue.

"I am personally not in agreement with the way the law is formulated...this matter will take its legal course and we'll keep watch over it," Calderón said. "It is our understanding that this plebiscite is not constitutional and we will keep fighting it."

In its lawsuit, the PDP argues that the definition of commonwealth as a territory to be presented to voters on the ballot violates the party's constitutional rights because it forces them to abandon its platform and political ideology.

The party also states that other definitions to be offered differ also from those approved by the U.S. House of Representatives in a separate status plebiscite bill that was shelved by the Senate.

Pérez Giménez ruled that both those questions must be decided by a federal judge because they deal with the history of the island's relationship with the U.S. Congress.

A similar action was taken by U.S. District Judge Héctor Laffitte last week when he ruled that the federal courts also had jurisdiction in Nogueras' lawsuit. Nogueras also has announced that he will appeal the decision before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

For his part, Gov. Rosselló said the courts are making it clearer each day that Puerto Rico's matters fall under the territorial clause of the U.S. Constitution making it a federal issue.

The U.S. Constitution gives the Congress full power over its territories.

When asked what he thought about the PDP's strategy to be decided today, Rosselló said, "That is the PDP's problem."

Staff writers Gina Cavallaro and Eva Lloréns Vélez contributed to this story.

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