Constitution of Puerto Rico

Constitution of Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico

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The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is the controlling government document of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. It is composed of nine articles detailing the structure of the government as well as the function of several of its institutions. The document also contains an extensive and specific Bill of Rights. Since Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States, the Puerto Rico Constitution is bound to adhere to the postulates of the U.S. Constitution due to the Supremacy Clause, and of relevant Federal legislation due to the Territorial Clause.

It was ratified by Puerto Rico's electorate in a referendum on March 3, 1952, approved by the United States Congress and the President in Pub.L. 82-447 (66 Stat. 327) on July 3, 1952, and on July 10, 1952 the Constitutional Convention of Puerto Rico reconvened and approved the conditions established by Public Law 82-447. On July 25, 1952, Governor Luis Muñoz Marín proclaimed that the constitution was in effect. July 25, which had been an official holiday in Puerto Rico commemorating the arrival of United States troops in Puerto Rico on July 25, 1898, is now known as Constitution Day. According to University of Puerto Rico Law Professor Antonio Fernós López-Cepero, Muñoz Marín chose July 25th for the proclamation of the Constitution with the intention of replacing the 1898 commemoration with the commemoration of the adoption of the constitution. In an article published on July 25, 2010, the late Professor Fernós López-Cepero stated to El Nuevo Dia newspaper that he heard this information from his father, the late Dr. Antonio Fernos Isern, who was the president of the Constitutional Convention in 1952.[1]



The United States government approved Public Law 600, authorizing Puerto Rico to draft its own constitution in 1951. The Constitutional Assembly met for a period of several months between 1951 and 1952 in which the document was written. The framers had to follow only two basic requirements established under Public Law 600. The first was the document must establish a republican form of government for the island. The second was the inclusion of a Bill of Rights.

The constitution was approved by a popular referendum and ratified by the United States Congress with a few amendments which maintains ultimate sovereignty over Puerto Rico while giving Puerto Ricans a high degree of autonomy. Under this Constitution, Puerto Rico officially designate themselves as Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. However, an ongoing debate has existed since the creation of the document about the legal status of Puerto Rico under the Federal Government of the United States. The autonomy recognized to the island has been put into doubt following certain decision by the Supreme Court of the United States which have interpreted the Territorial Clause of the United States Constitution as still controlling over Puerto Rico. Under this clause, the United States' Congress is the recognized sovereign of the island. In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court indicates that the purpose of Congress in the 1950 and 1952 legislation was to accord to Puerto Rico the degree of autonomy and independence normally associated with a State of the Union.[2]


The Preamble reads:

We, the people of Puerto Rico, in order to organize ourselves politically on a fully democratic basis, to promote the general welfare, and to secure for ourselves and our posterity the complete enjoyment of human rights, placing our trust in Almighty God, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the commonwealth which, in the exercise of our natural rights, we now create within our union with the United States of America.
In so doing, we declare:
The democratic system is fundamental to the life of the Puerto Rican community;
We understand that the democratic system of government is one in which the will of the people is the source of public power, the political order is subordinate to the rights of man, and the free participation of the citizen in collective decisions is assured;
We consider as determining factors in our life our citizenship of the United States of America and our aspiration continually to enrich our democratic heritage in the individual and collective enjoyment of its rights and privileges; our loyalty to the principles of the Federal Constitution; the co-existence in Puerto Rico of the two great cultures of the American Hemisphere; our fervor for education; our faith in justice; our devotion to the courageous, industrious, and peaceful way of life; our fidelity to individual human values above and beyond social position, racial differences, and economic interests; and our hope for a better world based on these principles.[3]

The Preamble of the Constitution of Puerto Rico is more extensive than the Preamble to the United States Constitution. However, it has the similarity that the preamble neither grants any powers nor inhibits any actions; it only explains the rationale behind the Constitution. Yet, it specifically details the determining factors that the Puerto Rican people have chosen as the basis for their new government. It also establishes the Constitution's loyalty to the principles of the Federal Constitution.

Articles of the Constitution

The remainder of the document consists of nine articles:

Article One: The Commonwealth

Article One establishes the new government for the island, which shall bear the name of Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. It declares that the source of the power of the government emanates from the people. The following three sections of the Article establish the Republican form of government of the island, divided into three branches (legislative, executive and judicial) and specifies the territorial jurisdiction of the document as well as the seat of the new government, which shall be the city of San Juan.

Article Two: Bill of Rights

Article Two of the Constitution is known as the Bill of Rights of Puerto Rico. In order to comply with the requirements of Public Law 600, the framers of the Puerto Rican Constitution decided to draft an extensive list of rights which were then organized into a whole Article of the constitutional document. It is divided into nineteen sections, each one listing one or several rights which are deemed fundamental under Puerto Rican constitutional law.

Section One begins by establishing that 'the dignity of the human being is inviolable' and that 'all men are equal before the law.'.[4] These two sentences have traditionally been interpreted by scholars as granting an unlimited amount of rights, since anything that violates the dignity of a human being will be deemed unconstitutional. However, the remainder of the section concretely establishes the kinds of discriminations that are outlawed.

No discrimination shall be made on account of race, color, sex, birth, social origin or condition, or political or religious ideas. Both the laws and the system of public education shall embody these principles of essential human equality.

Section Two establishes the right to vote in Puerto Rico;

Section 2. The laws shall guarantee the expression of the will of the people by means of equal, direct and secret universal suffrage and shall protect the citizen against any coercion in the exercise of the electoral franchise.

Section Three is the religious clause of the Puerto Rican Constitution. It prohibits the establishment of religion and protects the free exercise of religion. It reads;

No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. There shall be complete separation of church and state.

The last sentence specifically and concretly establishes the separation of church and state, a clause that is not found in the United States' Constitution but, rather, it is assumed and interpreted to exist. Section three leaves no doubt about the existence of such separation in Puerto Rico.

Section Four is very similar to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It establishes the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and the right to petition. It reads;

No law shall be made abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Section Five establishes the right to an education. It also mandates the establishment of a non-sectarian and free educational system for the island. The section also establishes that education will be compulsory for elementary school, to the extent permitted by the facilities of the state. The section further establishes that no public property or public funds shall be used for the support of schools or educational institutions other than those of the state.

Section Six declares the right of the people to organize themselves in associations, except if the associations are military or quasi-military in nature.

Section Seven contain several important fundamental rights. It reads;

The right to life, liberty and the enjoyment of property is recognized as a fundamental right of man. The death penalty shall not exist. No person shall be deprived of his liberty or property without due process of law. No person in Puerto Rico shall be denied the equal protection of the laws. No laws impairing the obligation of contracts shall be enacted. A minimum amount of property and possessions shall be exempt from attachment as provided by law.

First, Section Seven establishes that the right to life is fundamental in Puerto Rico. Because of this, the section determines that the death penalty will not exist under the jurisdiction of the commonwealth.

Second, the section contains the due process of law as well as the equal protection clauses. Third, it includes a contract clause for the jurisdiction of the commonwealth. Finally, the sections guarantees that a minimum amount of the property own by individuals will be exempt from government possession.

Section Eight declares that every person has the right to be protected by law against attacks on his honor, reputation and private or family life. This section has been interpreted as creating a general right to privacy in Puerto Rico.

Section Nine creates more liberties for the press. It establishes that:

No law shall be enacted authorizing condemnation of printing presses, machinery or material devoted to publications of any kind. The buildings in which these objects are located may be condemned only after a judicial finding of public convenience and necessity pursuant to procedure that shall be provided by law, and may be taken before such ajudicial finding only when there is placed at the disposition of the publication an adequate site in which it can be installed and continue to operate for a reasonable time.

Section Ten is similar to the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. It establishes that persons shall be protected against "unreasonable searches and seizures". It explicitly prohibits the use of wire-tapping. Furthermore, it declares that no search-warrant shall be issued unless probable-cause is shown.

Section Eleven is primarily devoted to the rights of the accused.

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to have a speedy and public trial, to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation and to have a copy thereof, to be confronted with the witnesses against him, to have assistance of counsel, and to be presumed innocent.

It also establishes that in all trials of felony the accused shall enjoy of a jury of twelve peers who render a verdict by majority vote in which no less than nine shall concur. Also, the section creates the right against self-incrimination as well as the prohibition of double jeopardy.

Section Twelve outlaws slavery and involuntary servitude, unless duly convicted. It also prohibits ex post facto laws and bills of attainder.

Section Thirteen guarantees the writ of habeas corpus, which can only be suspended by the Legislative Assembly in time of "rebellion, insurrection or invasion."

Section Fourteen prohibits the use of titles of nobility. It also prohibits public officials to receive gifts from foreign powers without the approval of the Legislative Assembly.

Section Fifteen deals with child labor. It prohibits the employment of children of less than fourteen years on jobs that may be "prejudicial to their health or morals". It also guarantees that no children under the age of sixteen shall be kept in jail.

Section Seventeen creates the fundamental right of employees, private and public, to organize themselves into associations and to negotiate with their employers. Section Eighteen also declares a fundamental right for employers to go on strike. However, the section ends by stating; "Nothing herein contained shall impair the authority of the Legislative Assembly to enact laws to deal with grave emergencies that clearly imperil the public health or safety or essential public services."

Section Nineteen is similar to the Ninth Amendment to the United States Constitution. It reads;

The foregoing enumeration of rights shall not be construed restrictively nor does it contemplate the exclusion of other rights not specifically mentioned which belong to the people in a democracy. The power of the Legislative Assembly to enact laws for the protection of the life, health and general welfare of the people shall likewise not be construed restrictively.

This section stresses out that the civil rights and liberties outlined in this Bill of Rights do not constitute an exclusive list thereof; others may exist. In other words, just because a civil right is not listed here, does not mean that the people do not have it. This is a safeguard against strict literal interpretations of the constitution with which the people will be denied all the rights not specifically listed here, such as a right to travel between districts at their own leisure (see propiska), or the right to travel abroad.

Article Three: Legislative power

Article 3 establishes the legislative power in Puerto Rico, which is vested in a bicameral legislature that bears the name Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico. The two houses that compose this Assembly are the Senate, with 27 members, and the House of Representatives of 51 members.

Article Four: Executive Power

Article Five: Judicial Power

Article Six: General Provisions

Article Seven: Amendments to the Constitution

Article 7 established the rules to performed amendments to the constitution, the Legislative Assembly may propose amendments to this Constitution by a concurrent resolution approved by not less than two-thirds of the total number of members of which each house is composed. All proposed amendments shall be submitted to the qualified electors in a special referendum, but if the concurrent resolution is approved by not less than three-fourths of the total number of members of which each house is composed, the Legislative Assembly may provide that the referendum shall be held at the same time as the next general election. Each proposed amendment shall be voted on separately and not more than three proposed amendments may be submitted at the same referendum. Every proposed amendment shall specify the terms under which it shall take effect, and it shall become a part of this Constitution if it is ratified by a majority of the electors voting thereon.

The section 3 indicates that no amendment to this Constitution shall alter the republican form of government established by it or abolish its bill of rights.*

  • By Resolution number 34, approved by the Constitutional Convention and ratified in the Referendum held on November 4, 1952, the following new sentence was added to section 3 of article VII: "Any amendment or revision of this constitution shall be consistent with the resolution enacted by the applicable provisions of the Constitution of the United States, with the Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act[5][6] and with Public Law 600, Eighty-first Congress, adopted in the nature of a compact".

Article Eight: Senatorial and Representative Districts

Article Nine: Transitional Provisions

See also


External links

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