SAN JUAN--Puerto Rico's Supreme Court agreed on Monday, to hear a lawsuit filed by the bankrupt US territory's Senate president seeking to remove newly installed Governor Pedro Pierluisi from office on constitutional grounds.
The high court put the litigation on the fast track ordering all parties to submit their arguments by midday on Tuesday.
Pierluisi (60) was hand-picked by his predecessor Governor Ricardo Rossello as Secretary of State, making him first in line for governor when Rossello resigned on Friday.
After his nomination was confirmed by the Puerto Rico House, Pierluisi was sworn in as governor even though the Senate had yet to ratify the appointment. The Senate was to meet in a special session later on Monday.
"If the Senate decides to take any type of voting action on my governorship, I will respect the result of such vote," Pierluisi said in a Twitter message on Monday.
If Pierluisi steps aside, Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez would become governor.
Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz initially filed his lawsuit on Sunday in a San Juan court asking for an injunction ordering Pierluisi "to cease and immediately" give up the office and functions of governor.
The lawsuit contends that Pierluisi's swearing-in was void because the US territory's constitution requires him to have fully taken the position of Secretary of State before Rossello's resignation in order for him to become the new governor.
"That has still not happened yet because the Senate of Puerto Rico has not finalized its constitutional responsibility for advice and consent for such an appointment," it added.
Separately, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz petitioned the high court to end the "unconstitutional exercise of the Puerto Rico governorship."
Pierluisi said on Monday that he was sworn in as Secretary of State when both legislative chambers were in recess, giving him "full possession" of the post under law.
He said he was properly sworn in as governor under Puerto Rico's constitution and a 2005 law that Schatz's lawsuit claims is unconstitutional.
Pierluisi's appointment has been controversial mainly because he formerly gave legal advice to the island's unpopular, federally created board supervising its finances, including its bankruptcy cases in federal court.
His instalment as governor capped a week of political chaos after Rossello said he would resign over offensive chat messages that drew around a third of the island's 3.2 million people to the streets in protest.
The chats between Rossello and top aides took aim at female politicians and gay celebrities like Ricky Martin, and also poked fun at ordinary Puerto Ricans.
Publication of the messages unleashed local anger building for years over the island's painful bankruptcy process, ineffective hurricane recovery efforts and corruption scandals linked to a string of past governors including Rossello's father. ~ Reuters ~