A lawyer told a federal appeals court in Boston yesterday that denying residents of Puerto Rico the right to vote in presidential elections creates a ''government without consent."
''We have the same at stake in presidential elections as all other American citizens," lawyer Gregorio Igartua said during a hearing in the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston.
A three-judge panel last year rejected Igartua's petition to allow Puerto Rican residents to vote in US presidential elections, and Igartua asked that the full court review the case. Previous federal court rulings have held that the Constitution must be amended or the independent commonwealth must become a state before its residents can vote for president.
The full seven members of the court did not immediately issue a ruling.
Gregory Katsas, a lawyer for the US attorney general's office, said the court does not have the authority to order Congress to count electoral votes from Puerto Rico or admit the commonwealth as a state.
Igartua fought back tears as he noted that 28 American citizens from Puerto Rico have died serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet none had the right to vote for the president who sent them to fight overseas. ''This situation must be ended," he said. ''You can make history today."
The appeals court has rejected Igartua's claims three times, including in 1994 and 2000.
Judge Juan Torruella, who dissented from the court's ruling last year, has called the lack of voting rights for the island's residents a ''Colonial condition" that represents a ''gross violation of their civil rights."
''If, on the one hand, it can be argued that Puerto Rico and its 'citizens' are better off materially than they were when the island was invaded 106 years ago," Torruella wrote last year, ''the undeniable fact is that it has been, and continues to be, at the basement of the American hegemony."
Torruella challenged Katsas during the hearing to explain what he meant in court papers when he referred to Puerto Ricans and ''their country."
''What country are you referring to?" he asked.
''The United States," Katsas responded.
''How do they take part in the government in the United States?" the judge asked.
By electing a nonvoting member to US Congress, Katsas answered, explaining ''they have a constitutional system with a democratically constituted government."
Granted US citizenship in 1917, Puerto Ricans rejected statehood in 1993 and 1998 in nonbinding referendums. The island has roughly 4 million residents.