What is the Supreme Court?
As its name implies, this court is the highest-ranking and court of last resort in Puerto Rico. The Supreme Court is the only one that exists by constitutional mandate, under Article V of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Its main function is to interpret the Constitution and laws of Puerto Rico. It is also charged with examining the constitutionality of the laws passed by the Legislative Assembly and of the official actions of the other branches of government.
The Supreme Court is the third tier or level of court. It is an appellate court where all the filings in the record of the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeals are submitted. That is to say, the parties submit their arguments in writing. As a general rule, the parties do not appear to state their positions orally unless the Supreme Court sets oral arguments. It is also important to note that the parties may not include any evidence that they have not filed with the Court of First Instance, nor may they include additional arguments, unless an exception applies. This court is the last state-level option available after resorting to the Court of Appeals.
Another function of the Supreme Court is to protect the ethical practice of law and to impose disciplinary measures both on judges of the Court of First Instance and of the Court of Appeals and on attorneys in the event of unethical conduct. In addition, the Supreme Court has the regulatory power to adopt rules of evidence, of civil and criminal procedure, and for the administration of the courts. It also has the inherent power to regulate the legal profession in Puerto Rico and, to such ends, has approved the Canons of Professional Ethics and the Canons of Judicial Ethics, which are standards of professional conduct for attorneys and judges, respectively. The Supreme Court drafts and approves these regulations and submits them to the Legislative Branch for any necessary revisions to be made by law.
How is the Supreme Court organized?
How is the Supreme Court organized?The Constitution establishes that the Supreme Court shall consist of one Chief Justice and four Associate Justices. However, it also establishes that the number of justices may be changed by law at the request of the Supreme Court. Currently, under the Judiciary Act of 2003, as amended, the Supreme Court comprises one (1) Chief Justice and eight (8) Associate Justices.
The justices of the Supreme Court are appointed by the governor of Puerto Rico, with the advice and consent of the Senate. The justices of the Supreme Court may hold office until they reach the age of seventy (70), which is the mandatory retirement age established in our Constitution.
How does the Supreme Court work?
Which cases or controversies are brought before the Supreme Court?
The Supreme Court is required to hear appeals submitted before it to review the final judgments rendered by the Court of Appeals where a law, a joint or concurring resolution, a rule or regulation of an government agency or instrumentality, or a municipal ordinance has been declared unconstitutional under the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The Supreme Court is also required to hear an appeal where there are conflicting judgments rendered by the Court of Appeals. Otherwise, the Supreme Court has discretion to hear an appeal. This means it is not required to decide any petitions to review the judgments and rulings of the Court of Appeals.
The Supreme Court is not always required to wait for the Court of Appeals to render a decision in order to review a case decided by the Court of First Instance. To this end, it may issue a writ of certification and bring the matter to its immediate attention if there is a conflict with previous decisions from the Court of Appeals, regardless of whether these are novel questions of law (which have not been settled previously) or matters of high public interest involving any important constitutional issue. It may also answer questions of law referred by federal courts. This happens when a federal court is hearing a case involving matters of Puerto Rican law and questions arise regarding the application of local law.
When rendering a decision, the Supreme Court may issue a judgment that applies only to the parties involved in the case and not on any other similar case. If the desired outcome is for the decision to apply to similar cases, an opinion is issued. The term “caselaw” refers to the decisions issued by the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico in the form of opinions. Caselaw establishes a rule or precedent that applies to other cases of a similar nature or to similar controversies that may arise later between other parties. Because these set the standards to follow, they are always published. Judgments are published when ordered by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court itself decides when a final decision in a case is an opinion or a judgment. If someone disagrees with the Supreme Court’s decision, they may file up to two motions to reconsider. If unsuccessful, the Supreme Court’s decision must be respected as final. If the decision issued by the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico is contrary to federal law, the Constitution of the United States, or any treaty to which the United States is party, a party may resort to the United States Supreme Court.
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