Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected as unconstitutional the swearing-in of Pedro Pierluisi as governor, reopening the political crisis in the self-governing U.S. territory.
The ruling by the Caribbean island’s top court cleared the way for Justice Minister Wanda Vazquez, who is next in the line of succession, to replace Pierluisi as acting governor.
Vazquez has previously indicated that she does not want the job.
The latest political contretemps follows massive street protests that forced the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello on Friday, who came under fire over corruption scandals and leaked electronic chats with associates.
Shortly before leaving office, Rossello effectively made Pierluisi his successor by appointing him secretary of state, next in the line of succession.
But Pierluisi was never confirmed in the position by Puerto Rico’s Senate, which was in recess, leading the court to declare he “cannot continue in the position of governor.”
“The assumption of the office of governor was unconstitutional” it said, unanimously rejecting the government’s argument that the omission of the Senate confirmation was covered by an amendment to a 1952 law.
The island has been shaken by weeks of street protests, set off by the leak of 889 pages of hacked text messages in which Rossello and his inner circle made crude comments about women, gays, hurricane victims, journalists and politicians.
The leak touched a deep well of public discontent that has brewed since the devastating 2017 Hurricane Maria, which left 3,000 dead and Puerto Rico in shambles.
A debt crisis, government corruption scandals and a painfully slow recovery from Maria have added to the island’s political woes.