The US Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against a group of Puerto Rico journalists who were seeking documents from the island’s financial oversight board, saying that the board is protected from such information requests by sovereign immunity.
The case, Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico v. Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, asked the court to determine whether the board is protected by the Puerto Rican government’s sovereign immunity. Writing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan said that the board is part of the government of Puerto Rico. To limit that sovereign immunity, Congress would need to use “unmistakable language,” which is not present in the act that created the board, PROMESA. Because this kind of clear language limiting immunity is not present, the board enjoys the protections of sovereign immunity and is not obligated to provide records to the press.
Lourdes M. Rosado, president of the civil rights group LatinoJustice PRLDEF, condemned the ruling, saying in a statement that the decision “allows this anti-democratic body to continue to withhold vital information on their decisions and actions affecting Puerto Rico’s economy and the lives of millions of people.”
Congress created the board in 2016 after the island territory declared a fiscal crisis. The board subsequently filed for bankruptcy protection in 2017, but courts gave the board oversight of Puerto Rico’s financial management under PROMESA in 2018. Puerto Rico’s economic challenges have continued despite the board’s oversight, contributing to opposition to the board, whose members are not elected.
The ruling restricting journalists’ rights to request information from the territory’s governing bodies follows a 2022 Supreme Court decision that said Puerto Ricans could be excluded from certain federal benefits. Puerto Rico’s status remains an open question, as its current status as a territory continues to create legal problems for residents.
The House of Representatives passed a bill in December 2022 to empower Puerto Ricans to vote on whether they want to become a US state, an independent nation, or a sovereign government associated with the US. The bill did not pass the Senate but was re-introduced in the House this year.