Commonwealth officials are not happy about a legal brief the U.S. filed in a little-noticed Supreme Court case.
As the federal government's lead lawyer before the Supreme Court, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli has an important but relatively narrow role: By design, his views are intended to sway the justices and the justices alone.
But a brief Verrilli filed last week with the court -- for an under-the-radar case in which the U.S. isn't even a party -- made waves far beyond, eliciting a media maelstrom in Puerto Rico, impassioned responses from officials and even an appeal to the U.N. The controversy brings to the fore a longstanding debate about the island's political future, which is already at a tipping point thanks to Puerto Rico's ongoing debt crisis.
The reason for the uproar: Verrilli's brief stressed that Puerto Rico is still only a U.S. territory -- a non-sovereign with limited authority over its affairs.
In a telling passage, the solicitor general told the Supreme Court that Puerto Rico "could become" a sovereign, but "only if it were to attain statehood or become an independent nation."
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