High court raises doubts over Puerto Rico sovereignty

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday raised doubts about whether Puerto Rico should be treated as a sovereign state with powers that go beyond its status as a territory of the United States.
 
The justices considered the question during arguments in a criminal case involving two men who claim that Puerto Rico and the federal government can't prosecute them for the same charges of selling weapons without a permit.

The double jeopardy principal prevents defendants from being tried twice for the same offense. But there is an exception that allows prosecution under similar state and federal laws, since states are considered separate sovereigns.

Several justices said Puerto Rico's power to enforce local laws really comes from Congress, which in theory could take it away.

The case has broad political and legal implications that could affect Puerto Rico on issues ranging from taxation and bankruptcy to federal benefits. It comes as the high court prepares to hear a separate dispute later this year over whether the financially struggling Puerto Rican government can give its municipalities the power to declare bankruptcy.

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