Delegates Would Quickly Figure Out There is NOTHING to Do
After years of failing to propose any constitutionally viable, non-territorial status options for the territory of Puerto Rico, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), Puerto Rico’s second-largest party and champion of the unequal status quo under the “Commonwealth,” is now trying to sell a new idea: a Constitutional Convention (or sometimes refered to as a Constituional Assembly on Status).
When we think of a “Constitutional Convention,” we envision our Founding Fathers in 1787 working hard in Independence Hall, Philadelphia to build a lasting government of, by, and for the people. That romantic notion of a constitutional convention stirs within us that American democratic spirit that was born during the very creation of our republic. However, Puerto Rico’s status question and the way forth to citizen equality is hardly the work of constitutional delegates.
Those who advocate a constitutional convention claim that it is time to try something else because Puerto Ricans have not been able to choose a permanent, non-territorial status through previous plebiscites. Why not have Congress authorize the “Commonwealth” to elect delegates and hold a constitutional convention that would reflect Puerto Rico’s entire political spectrum? Then the convention could debate and reach a consensus for charting the island’s future to submit to Congress. As the PPD’s own website claims, “At the Constitutional Assembly on Status it will be the elected representatives of the People of Puerto Rico who will develop and negotiate with the Congress and the Executive Brach of the United States the definitions and formulas acceptable to a solution of the status question.”
First, Puerto Rico already has a functioning constitution founded on a republican form of governance. Second, Puerto Rico’s permanent status options are well-defined by the U.S. Constitution. Third, no number of delegates can bring about “consensus” on the issue of Puerto Rico’s political status. And, fourth, no mechanism for selecting a sovereign option is more democratic than the direct vote of the people.
For these main reasons, one should conclude that the Constitutional Convention idea is at best misguided and at worst a deliberate delaying tactic by the PPD. What does it mean that delegates will “develop” and “negotiate” acceptable “definitions” and “formulas”?
If this “new” course of action were followed, the progression supposedly would be fluid. The Congress would authorize the government of Puerto Rico to conduct an election for delegates, but nobody has really proposed how they would be elected by the people (i.e. legislative districts, at-large, custom-made districts). Moreover, the delegates would inevitably belong to one of the three current status ideologies (i.e. statehood, independence, and “Commonwealth”), so that would mean an expected composition of, roughly, 50 percent pro-statehood delegates, 46 percent pro-“Commonwealth,” 3 percent pro-independence, and 1 percent “pro-other” (perhaps “None of the Above”) depending on the districting system used.
Imagining a 100-member constitutional delegation, then, that would make for 50 delegates who would support statehood, 46 who would support the unequal status quo (perhaps with an enhancement thereof), 3 who would support independence, and one loose cannon. More questions arise. What will the threshold be? Fifty-one percent? Sixty? In addition to the inherent question of threshold, there are also questions about what constitutes consensus and will achieving consensus create a status abomination that the U.S. Constitution cannot validate?
At the end of the day, these questions characterize the impracticability of a Constitutional Convention as a vehicle of change, but they also illustrate the attractiveness of said mechanism as a weapon of mass distraction.
Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States under the plenary powers of Congress; Congress has bestowed Puerto Rico with natural American citizenship (1917) and local self-government (1952); Puerto Ricans consented in 1952 to be governed as a territory; in 1998 Puerto Ricans revoked their previously entered consent to be governed as a territory when a majority of the voting public voted for an option other than the current territorial status; the federal government has underscored the U.S. Constitution’s text in relation to Puerto Rico’s sovereign options (i.e. statehood, independence, or territorial status)–these are some facts that the delegates to the so-called Constitutional Convention would have to face as they seek “consensus.”
In the end, honest delegates would realize there is nothing for them to do.